Next phase of legal challenges after parts of municipal court reform law overturned

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – A bipartisan effort to curb excessive ticketing of motorists, particularly those who are minorities or indigent, will be reviewed by the Missouri Supreme Court. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster intends to appeal a decision from the Cole County Circuit Court that ruled part of Senate Bill 5 unconstitutional.

Protests in Ferguson and studies showing how traffic court problems across north St. Louis County were negatively impacting low-income residents prompted the Missouri legislature to approve the statute in 2015. The law limited revenue from traffic cases to 12.5 percent of the budgets of St. Louis County municipalities. Yet communities outside of St. Louis County, even St. Louis City, could still collect up to 20 percent of their total budget.

A dozen communities—including Normandy, Pagedale, and Vinita Park—challenged the law. The judge ruled part of it unconstitutional and part of it a special law. Other sections remain intact.

One of the authors, State Senator Eric Schmitt of Glendale, warned that could set a dangerous precedent and put other laws that benefit only St. Louis County at risk.

St. Louis University Law School Clinic professor John Ammann thinks the Missouri Supreme Court should keep the law as it was written.

“We believe the legislature has the authority to address a problem where it sees it and if it saw the most serious problem was in St. Louis they have a right to have rules that address where the problem is,” he said.

But Normandy’s Mayor Pat Green sees the Cole County Court ruling as a victory. He said he understood the criticism about some municipal courts, but insisted many of the towns are already changing practices and improving police department procedures.

“We are willing to work with Senator Schmitt, the legislature, as (Governor) Jay Nixon mentioned, to help craft a law where everyone will win,” Green said.

Several of the mayors said their proposals for the bill were never considered.

Professor Ammann noted portions of the statute remain in effect which are “positive.” He pointed to caps on traffic violation fines of $300, the elimination of jail time for minor traffic offenses and failure to appear in court charges.

A provision allowing violators to show they are indigent when they appear in court to avoid high fines.