JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri court on Monday struck down parts of a law limiting cities’ ability to profit from traffic tickets and court fines — a measure meant to address concerns raised after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the law unconstitutionally targeted St. Louis-area municipalities with caps on revenues from traffic fines that were lower than other cities in the state. He also struck down special requirements included in the law for St. Louis-area police departments, including written use-of-force policies and procedures for reporting police stops.
Beetem found that some parts of the law, including a provision requiring police departments in St. Louis County to become accredited within six years, were unconstitutional mandates because the state did not provide funding for them.
The 2015 law lowered the percentage of revenue most cities can collect from traffic fines and fees from 30 percent to 20 percent — except for cities in St. Louis County, which faced a 12.5 percent cap.
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Local governments throughout the St. Louis region came under scrutiny following a Justice Department report after Brown’s death that cited Ferguson’s profit-driven court system that frequently targeted black and low-income residents. Ferguson, which has since reached an agreement with the Justice Department to overhaul its police and court systems, was not one of the twelve municipalities that sued to stop the law.
Sam Alton, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Obviously I’m elated, and I know the municipalities that are involved are elated.”
The Missouri attorney general’s office says it is reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
Gov. Jay Nixon said Senate Bill 5 took “meaningful and much-needed steps to end the unacceptable abuses of the municipal court system in the St. Louis region.” He said he will work with lawmakers to make any changes necessary to implement the law.
The Senate earlier this year voted to add municipal ordinance fines to cities’ revenue cap, and the legislation is awaiting a committee vote in the House.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican from St. Louis County who proposed the law, said Monday’s decision is emblematic of why people don’t trust their government.
“For years citizens have been abused by local bureaucrats who have treated them like ATMs to fund their bloated budgets, salaries and perks,” he said in a statement. “These same bureaucrats used the money they collected to hire an out-of-state attorney and lobbyists to fight the most significant municipal court reform ever enacted in Missouri.”
The shooting of Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, in August 2014 by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson led to sometimes-violent protests and the Justice Department investigation.
A grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.