Courts Remain Issue In Ferguson Region

The civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., has continued to put municipal courts on the hot seat, and the The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a new investigative report illustrating how the courts have become revenue machines for local governments. For example, the newspaper “… found that court officials in one municipality threatened nontraffic defendants with license suspensions even when they knew they had no such authority.”

That story involved a 42-year-old man who failed to appear in the muni court of a small city called Breckenridge Hills to face an assault citation. So the court sent out a notice informing him that if he didn’t pay his $209 fine in full or appear in court at his next scheduled date, his driver’s license would be immediately suspended and a warrant would be issued for his arrest. 

From the newspaper: “The court’s November 2014 notice to him included a form that seemingly would be sent ‘to notify the Department of Revenue that the Court has ordered the suspension of the defendant’s drivers license and privileges until an order of compliance is received from this court.'” Breckenridge Hills court clerk Kathy Palladino acknowledged that for the last 18 months she has issued license-suspension warnings even though she knew they were bogus.” She explained that she did so “to open up their eyes, to say, ‘Hey, you didn’t take care of this — you need to come to court.’”

The report did not indicate any actions would be taken against the court officials abusing their authority. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers are considering statewide curbs on municipal court powers and practices. See the Post-Dispatch story here.