ST. LOUIS — Several municipal divisions in St. Louis County are consolidating as part of an effort to reduce the use of municipal courts to raise revenue, the Missouri Supreme Court announced Tuesday.
The consolidation of the county’s 80 courts was one recommendation from the Ferguson Commission, which studied ways to improve the relationship between residents and the law enforcement community after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, on Aug. 9, 2014.
“By reducing costs, sharing operations, as well as clerical and judicial personnel, we hope to reduce the incentive to use municipal divisions as revenue generators rather than to ensure public safety,” said Missouri Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge in a statement. “The progress we have made proves we can change. We can affect meaningful improvement. We can lead.”
The court said municipal operations from Charlack, Northwoods and Vinita Park have consolidated into the St. Ann municipal division. Municipal courts from Bellerive Acres, Cool Valley, Glen Echo Park, Greendale, Pasadena Park and Uplands Park are expected to consolidate into Normandy municipal division.
Breckenridge also announced that the state received a $500,000 Justice Department grant to develop case management software to help municipal courts improve their operations. The grant, scheduled to run through Sept. 30, 2019, will allow the court system to implement a pilot program for minor traffic and ordinance violations to be resolved out of court.
The Normandy consolidation was led by Beyond Housing, a nonprofit community development organization, and the 24:1 Community, which represents the 24 municipalities in the Normandy school district in north St. Louis County.
“The Normandy court has already been collaborating with our neighbors and we even recently hired a judge who is not a prosecutor or attorney in any other city,” Normandy Mayor Patrick Green said in a statement. “We’re here to dispel the myth that all North St. Louis municipalities want the status quo. We have been leading the change long before now, but this gives us an opportunity to act in new ways to foster trust between people, courts and government.”
The announcement comes after the state Supreme Court issued minimum standards for municipal courts, including requiring the courts to have a judge on duty at all times to rule on warrants and bail, and to offer alternative sentences for people who are too poor to pay fines, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The new rules also require courts to have a clerk on duty for at least 30 hours a week and pursue automation to allow payments online and make available free online access to information about pending cases, outstanding warrants and scheduled dockets.
Some critics have said the new standards, which don’t have any penalties for failure to comply, do not go far enough. Municipal courts only have to certify twice a year to the presiding judge in their circuit that the standards are being met.