Brendan Roediger | St. Louis Public Radio

Brendan Roediger

Members of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment conduct a silent protest during a public hearing on municipal court reform on Nov. 12, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Lawyers who are leading the effort to reform the municipal courts in St. Louis, tell of injustices they have witnessed in the courts and callous indifference among some of the municipal judges. They say the system is made up of modern-day debtors’ prisons.

They provide examples.

Protesters outside St. Louis County headquarters on Feb. 2, 2015 call for reforms of the municipal court system.
File photo by Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

About a year ago, Missouri attorney General Chris Koster sued 13 municipalities in St. Louis County who weren’t complying with the state’s law on traffic revenue.

It was one of a series of cases at the state and local level filed against cities for the way they operate their municipal courts. And the architects of the strategy say it's working.

A man with an American flag stands in front of a Ferguson Police car earlier in July.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

If you’ve developed an interest in legislation inspired by the unrest in Ferguson, then you’ve probably seen some strong adjectives attached to a law known as Senate Bill 5.  

Sen. Eric Schmitt’s legislation has been described as “sweeping,” “multi-faceted,” “massive,” “broad” and "significant.” It lowers the percentage of traffic fine revenue cities can keep; prompts St. Louis County cities to adhere to certain standards; and provides new guidelines for how municipal courts should operate.

Northwoods Mayor Everett Thomas says a recently-passed bill curtailing municipal courts could prompt his city to cut staff or services.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Jaquin Holmes has had his share of frustration with the way municipal courts in St. Louis County operate. During a meeting of the Ferguson Commission last year, the St. Louis resident talked about being treated harshly for what deemed to be minor traffic offenses.

Holmes said he’s encountered a broken system. And he wanted the Missouri General Assembly to step up.

Law Professionals Discuss Court Fines, Fees

Sep 30, 2014
People line up to take part in an amnesty program to clear up outstanding misdemeanor arrest warrants in August 2013, in Ferguson, Mo.
Jeff Roberson | Associated Press

In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations, according to documents filed with Missouri’s judicial department.