What To Do With the DOJ Report on Ferguson

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The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

–Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Because of business travel and meetings, I postponed reading the Department of Justice report on Ferguson until. late, late last night. And I didn’t read all of it. I tried to focus on the parts we can do something about or learn from.

There are many. And there are many opportunities for distraction. Those distractions will interest some radio talkers, for sure, but distractions block action.

The Big Distraction

Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m not surprised that Eric Holder’s DOJ puts such an emphasis on race. Neither do I dismiss the racial aspects of the report. I think it’s reasonable to assume that at least some problems in Ferguson owe to attitudes toward people of another race.

Some may use the report’s racial overtones to discredit the entire document, though, and that would be a mistake. I’ve edited out references to race in several of the quotes. Race  might matter to Holder, but not to me. Abuse is abuse no matter the victim’s color.

The meat of the story here is corruption driven by government greed, as my friend Christina Botteri (@christinakb) pointed out. The people perpetrating the corruption are not the police, but the city officials who direct police activity.

Eric Holder’s name can drive conservatives and libertarians to distraction. Please read the report, or a summary of the report, open to the possibility that some of the findings are true. Then consider the corroborating evidence we have uncovered in our Municipal Courts project.

Reading the report with an open mind and in light of evidence we already knew about police and court practices in many Missouri cities, we realize that Eric Holder’s last major work is a gift to the liberty lovers of America. Take it as such and act.

Taxation By Citation

The first and clearest finding in the report is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. Ferguson treats citizens like the government’s ATM machines. From the report:

City officials routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement. In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.” Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: “Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.”

Public safety, crime prevention, and investigations–you know, the stuff police are supposed to do–rank below revenue generation in Ferguson:

Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation. Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents . . . less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.

Once upon a time when I was about to enter the St. Louis Police Academy, I spent some time with a senior detective about to retire. He told me, “there’s three kinds of people in the world: perps, victims, and cops.”

I felt sorry for him. At the time, I hoped I never developed such cynicism. I thought I understood how such an attitude could develop working with crime all one’s life. But I hoped to avoid it. (I got a job offer while waiting to class up and never became a police officer.)

The daily pressure to write  more tickets and arrest more people on ordinance violations seems to accelerate a cynical attitude. My friend Dan, who testified before Senator Eric Schmitt’s committee on the Mack’s Creek law, told me a friend of his, and former Ferguson police officer, turns down numerous offers to return to law enforcement because of police and civilian leaders who twist good cops into “ticket jockeys.”

Revenue Needs Lead to Civil Rights Abuses

The report describes a familiar tactic police use to create a situation that leads to more fines and jail time: abuse of authority.

This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

I am tempted to say, “but Holder’s DOJ violates the Fourth Amendment all the time.” And “what about the NSA?”

True. This report on Ferguson raises hypocrisy to new heights. But just because the authors of the report violate the law does not mean the report is wrong. It just means we have more work to do.

The report describes how this abuse of authority works:

For example, in the summer of 2012, a . . . man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s Social Security number and identification. Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer also asked to search the man’s car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights. In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver’s license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car.

That story is only one example that fits a pattern easy to identify. If people won’t commit a minor municipal code violation, police in towns like Ferguson will bully people into committing something. It seems that I could be arrested for introducing myself to a cop as “Bill Hennessy.” What if I gave my post office address of Pacific instead of the actual location of my house, Wildwood? Would that constitute Making a False Declaration?

And, since when was a false declaration a crime? Why isn’t the Ferguson PD arresting the President for declaring, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it?”

Let’s move on to the Ferguson Municipal Court.

The Kangaroo Court and Its Tax-Owing Judge

The DOJ report addresses directly a common problem with municipal courts. They don’t even pretend to dispense justice. They operate only to extract as much money as possible from anyone unlucky enough to wander through their doors. Ferguson’s court is like some backwater Mexican jailhouse.

The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests.

Perhaps the perfect description of a problem in dozens of municipal courts around St. Louis County.

Now, some have criticized our muni courts project, asking “don’t you believe in law and order, Bill?”

Yes, I do. And I believe the first law is the law that restricts government. Which is why government officials who break the law should face stronger penalties and harsher rebukes than citizens who commit similar violations.

Most strikingly, the court issues municipal arrest warrants not on the basis of public safety needs, but rather as a routine response to missed court appearances and required fine payments. In 2013 alone, the court issued over 9,000 warrants on cases stemming in large part from minor violations such as parking infractions, traffic tickets, or housing code violations. Jail time would be considered far too harsh a penalty for the great majority of these code violations, yet Ferguson’s municipal court routinely issues warrants for people to be arrested and incarcerated for failing to timely pay related fines and fees.

Just days after the DOJ released its report on Ferguson, The Guardian reported that the judge of that court, Ronald Brockmeyer, owes a lot of taxes, himself:

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

How low of a lowlife is Brockmeyer?

Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.

Brockmeyer is part of the revolving door of municipal court abusers. He’s judge in Ferguson and prosecutor elsewhere, teaching other towns how to extract more blood from their citizen-turnips. From The Guardian:

Brockmeyer, who has been Ferguson’s municipal court judge for 12 years, serves simultaneously as a prosecutor in two nearby cities and as a private attorney. Legal experts said his potentially conflicting interests illustrate a serious problem in the region’s judicial system. Brockmeyer, who reportedly earns $600 per shift as a prosecutor, said last year his dual role benefited defendants. “I see both sides of it,” he said. “I think it’s even better.”

Maybe Brockmeyer needs those ‘abusive and unlawful” fees and fines he’s so proud of to pay his back taxes.

Brockmeyer symbolizes the rentier model of Ferguson and similar cities in St. Louis County. “Rentier” refers to the medieval practice of land barons of demanding large fees simply for crossing their land. The land itself was granted to them by the king–the barons did not buy it. And every inch of some countries were controlled by some baron. Public roads were subject to private tolls. But the barons added no value. They did not improve the roads or offer protection to travelers. They only took. “Rentier.”

The court imposes these severe penalties for missed appearances and payments even as several of the court’s practices create unnecessary barriers to resolving a municipal violation. The court often fails to provide clear and accurate information regarding a person’s charges or court obligations.

We learned that from Dan Hyatt and Lee Presser. Both white, upper-middle-class. Dan and Lee showed that Breckenridge Hills and Bel-Ridge courts fail to comply with Missouri Supreme Court rules on the conduct of court, the preservation of evidence, and the recording of proceedings.

The Snare of Muni Courts

Getting tangled up in the muni court system can lead to a nightmarish carnival of mayhem for the poor.

We spoke, for example, with an African-American woman who has a still-pending case stemming from 2007, when, on a single occasion, she parked her car illegally. She received two citations and a $151 fine, plus fees. The woman, who experienced financial difficulties and periods of homelessness over several years, was charged with seven Failure to Appear offenses for missing court dates or fine payments on her parking tickets between 2007 and 2010. For each Failure to Appear, the court issued an arrest warrant and imposed new fines and fees. From 2007 to 2014, the woman was arrested twice, spent six days in jail, and paid $550 to the court for the events stemming from this single instance of illegal parking. Court records show that she twice attempted to make partial payments of $25 and $50, but the court returned those payments, refusing to accept anything less than payment in full. One of those payments was later accepted, but only after the court’s letter rejecting payment by money order was returned as undeliverable. This woman is now making regular payments on the fine. As of December 2014, over seven years later, despite initially owing a $151 fine and having already paid $550, she still owed $541.

It’s easy to say, “she should have gone to court.” You’d be right. But going to court would not have helped if she didn’t have the money to pay.

Further, why is it okay for government–our creation and our servant–to abuse its master? Why can Judge Brockmeyer invent “abusive and unlawful fines” to levy on poor citizens, but the citizen goes to jail and if she can’t or won’t pay those abusive and unlawful fines?

It’s backwards.

Ferguson Has Two Kinds of People

That old cop who told me of three kinds of people was wrong. In cities like Ferguson, where revenue generation trumps everything else, police are victims, too. That leaves two kinds of people: perps and victims.

What’s most disturbing about the reality of cities like Ferguson, Missouri, is the human suffering the system creates. Citizens are not the only victims. The police are victims, too. Darren Wilson was a victim of the system that built walls of hostility and distrust between the police and the people they were supposed to serve and protect.

No one goes to the police academy hoping to write lots of tickets that turn into bench warrants. People become cops because they know civil society needs brave and patient officers who show up at bad situations, keep their heads about them, and settle everything down before figuring out what really happened and writing a report for judges and juries to weigh.

But municipal greed turns these men and women into Sheriffs of Nottingham, finding feeble excuses to extract more tax dollars from citizens for the benefit of a rentier government scheme. And the judges are the perps.

Take Action

After reading the DOJ report, I feel compelled to thank Senator Eric Schmitt and his co-sponsors again. Also, thanks to the people who testified for Senator Schmitt’s bill that reduced the cap on traffic fines to 10 percent of a city’s revenue. But there’s more work to be done.

First, that Mack’s Creek bill that passed the Missouri Senate 34 to 0 needs to pass the House. I spoke to State Representative Shamed Dogan who said he expects the bill to pass, but not as surely as it did in the Senate. Write your Missouri State Rep and ask him or her to support SB-5.

While Senator Schmitt’s bill was a great start, it’s not enough. Auditor Tom Schweich began the process of enforcing the Mack’s Creek law, but he is not around to complete that work. You can email the interim auditor, John Watson, and ask him to continue Schweich’s Municipal Court project. His email is moaudit@auditor.mo.gov.

Finally, we would like to see criminal penalties for mayors, judges, comptrollers, and city managers who impose unlawful fines and fees or try to violate the Mack’s Creek law. Right now, the law only allows the state to abolish abusive muni courts. But guys like Judge Brockmeyer will just migrate to another town and set up shop. As I said, government officials who break the law should face stiffer penalties than citizens.

Free People, Not Sheep

As I wrote back in September, the municipal court problem is a liberty issue. Blindly accepting whatever a town’s police and courts dish out softens people. It prepares us to accept any abuse, any civil rights restriction, the government wants to impose. In the words of 19th century French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, these courts and police practices reduce us to “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Let’s stop these abuses now.

Providence and Hope in Missouri

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Fate moves in mysterious ways.

Just days before State Auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich died, Eric Greitens announced an exploratory committee. Greitens wants to test the water of a possible run for Missouri Governor as a Republican.

Greitens would be, perhaps, the most remarkable human being ever to pursue the office of Governor of Missouri. Here’s a sampling of Greitens’s achievements:

  • Humanitarian who’s worked in Rwanda, Bosnia, Central America, India and other disaster zones—usually man-made disaster zones
  • Boxer who won championships in England

  • Rhodes Scholar who completed the program at Oxford
  • Navy SEAL who earned the Bronze Star among other accolades in four tours in Iraq
  • Founder of The Mission Continues to give wounded veterans a mission and a purpose in life
  • Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world
  • Forbes’ Magazine’s 50 greatest leaders in the world

Purpose Over Party

Greitens is no ideologue. He believes in a purpose-driven life. He sees lack of purpose and effortless living as dangerous to individuals and to society. From Bill McMorris of the Washington Free Beacon:

Greitens never brings up taxpayers, the “47 percent,” or redistribution when he talks about entitlements. He focuses solely on the recipients of government largesse because “we have to offer a hopeful alternative based on results, rather than good intentions.”

When he talks about government largesse, he’s not limiting the conversation to welfare. Programs that put wounded veterans on the sidelines of life are hurtful, too.

“They lure you into the system and people get stuck there. Even if you’re only 40 percent disabled, they’ll give you 100 percent disability in some cases,” he says. “You have to think about the incentives of government workers. Guys in the VA don’t get paid to help veterans lead productive lives. Their metrics are on how many people sign up for benefits.”

And he understands how destructive is the practice of inventorying human beings:

“These are motivated individuals who have the best training in the country. We entrusted them with protecting us, but when they come home we treat them like victims instead of leaders,” he says. “Life is richer if it is animated by purpose. I wanted to reinforce that sense of dignity.”

No one like Greitens has run for governor of Missouri in several lifetimes. He has done more good for the world in his 40-plus years than most career politicians could do in 80. He has turned down the chance to be super rich many times, choosing a higher purpose, instead.

UPDATE: Meet Eric Greitens–Get His Latest Book Resilience on March 16.

If Greitens enters the race, Missouri’s Republican establishment will face a threat to its existence. Greitens can destroy the Wagner-Blunt-Hancock power bloc like no one else.

Boxer, SEAL, humanitarian, scholar, charity founder. The merchants of swill who helped drive Schweich to suicide will face an opponent in Greitens whose strength and character are stuff of Marvel comic books and Hollywood hero movies.

Sure, Hanaway’s minions will start whisper campaigns about Greitens. They’ll whisper about his divorce. They’ll wonder why he doesn’t loudly profess his faith. They’ll ask why he left active duty. They’ll find some veteran with an axe to grind and feed the source to their media puppets. They’ll quietly wonder if Greitens isn’t just using Missouri as a step-stone to the White House.

If none of that works, they’ll just lie and claim he’s a Democrat.

Hope Renewed

Before Schweich’s suicide, my political fire was little more than a smoldering ember. The circumstances surrounding Tom’s death was like gasoline. I was angry and resentful.

The idea of Governor Eric Greitens quells that anger and replaces it with hope. Hope for myself, for my family, for my state. Hope for the party I once called home and might again.

I am a skeptic about direct divine intervention. I can’t help but wonder, now, if someone saw Schweich’s undoing and moved Eric Greitens to give the story a happy ending.

Now, I have hope. I hope Greitens runs. I hope Missourians recognize the opportunity his candidacy would give our state, our country, and our souls.

I believe Missouri voters will prove smarter than the establishment gives us credit for. We recognize greatness when it walks into the room. How could we miss it in Eric Greitens?

California voters elected a governor who played super heroes in movies. Missouri voters could elect a super hero about whom movies are made.

Missouri needs hope. The state is in decline. Its largest metropolitan area is losing jobs, population, and reputation. One of its two major parties is in disarray, mired in the bogs of absolute corruption and cronyism.

Eric Greitens’s candidacy would give Missouri hope. His leadership could erase the stains left by Ferguson and Hancock. The possibility of Greitens’s candidacy rejuvenated my spirits. I pulled down an angry post to make room for this one, so he’s already making a difference in my life.

Providence and Eric Greitens

Providence seems to be turning the tables on the cowards behind the infamous Barney Fife ads meant to help Catherine Hanaway by emotionally injuring Tom Schweich. Those ads combined with a cynical whisper campaign that Schweich was Jewish and a team of trackers who relentlessly video taped Schweich everywhere but inside his home achieved their objective: Schweich is gone.

In his place, may come a hero. An honest to God, true-to-life hero.

And the thing that makes Eric Greitens the most fascinating twist in this sordid story?

Eric Greitens is Jewish. No need to whisper.

Continuing Your Mission

Read The Great Jewish Hope by Bill McMorris: http://freebeacon.com/politics/the-great-jewish-hope/. Read Eric Greitens’s remarkable story in his best-seller, The Heart and the Fist. Read Eric Greitens’s latest book of letters to wounded warriors, Resilience.

UPDATE: Meet Eric Greitens–Get His Latest Book Resilience on March 16.

When Eric Greitens decides to run, won’t you join your mission to his?

Image Source: news.streetroots.org

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Reardon of KMOX for the kind words about this post.

Tom Schweich, RIP

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News of Auditor Tom Schweich’s death hit me hard. If you haven’t heard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported to day that my friend Tom Schweich died of a gunshot wound today. Tom was 54.

I am saddened by this news. I pray for Tom’s family and for his rapid entry to eternal happiness.

May perpetual light shine on him, and may his soul and all the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

34 to 0: Good Ideas Are Hard to Fight

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I was scared. Not afraid to say it.

And some friends turned hostile. They had good reasons. And I was probably a little cavalier. And I talked way too long.

But last September I wanted to start something that would help real people in our neighborhood while advancing liberty and upsetting abusive government. Sure, I’d rather upset the federal government in Washington, but my arms are little short to box with Harry Reid. St. Louis County’s municipalities, on the other hand, lie within our reach.

So I took a swing.

Thank you to all of you who joined the fight against abusive municipal courts. Thank you to my friends who disagreed with the fight but stayed on the sidelines. Thank you to frequent adversaries who put aside differences and helped out.

Special thanks to Auditor Tom Schweich for his early leadership in launching the Municipal Court Project to audit cities suspected of abusing the Macks Creek Law that capped municipal revenue from traffic tickets to 30 percent of the city’s revenue.

Most of all, thank you, Senator Eric Schmitt. Despite the risks, you took this fight into the Missouri State Senate. You forged alliances with frequent adversaries and risked some friendships with great conservative Senators around the state.

In the end, your vision and leadership prevailed. On Thursday, the Missouri Senate voted 34 to 0 to pass your bill reducing the Macks Creek cap to 10 percent from 30 percent.

Even the New York Times couldn’t help but notice that the right ideas bring together old adversaries. I didn’t do much on this issue–far less than many people whose names you’ll never hear. But I admit I take a little pride in helping Senator Schmitt’s victory.

How to Define Tom Schweich With One Word

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Work screwed up my plans.

Our annual St. Louis Tea Party / Heritage Action Christmas Party started at 6:00 in the evening on December 17. I knew Auditor Tom Schweich planned to attend, and I looked forward to seeing him.

About 3:00 the problems started. People scurrying to wrap up projects before the Christmas break led to errors, questions, and never-ending email threads.

I finally made it out of the office about 7:30 and arrived at Scarecrow in Chesterfield a little after 8:00.

“You missed Tom Schweich,” someone said as walked into the room. “He was great.”

Later, someone who long questioned my favorable view of Tom said, “I have to re-think everything I’ve said about Schweich. He impressed me. And a lot of people, I think.”

I experienced the same surprise when I met Tom Schweich the first time. We met for lunch on a hot day in 2010. I expected a typical GOP establishment hack: smooth, overly friendly, defensive, and forgettable. I expected the man others told me to expect. But I met someone very different.

Rock n Roll Lunch

How different? That lunch ended listening to his band’s recording of their original rock song. We were sitting in Tom’s car in the parking lot at Lamp and Lantern Village. The car was suffocating, but the music was great.

“Reminds me of the Rolling Stones,” I said.

“I love the Rolling Stones,” Tom shot back. Beamed back. “They’re a big influence.”

Of all the many politicians I met in 2009 and 2010, none stood as distinctly as Tom Schweich. Most of my friends adamantly opposed him, of course, preferring his competitor Allen Icet. While Icet garnered the full support of the tea party movement in Missouri, Schweich’s support–financial support in particular–came from Sam Fox, John Danforth, and others in the intellectual Republican world.

Schweich addressed his donors head-on and before I asked. “I am one-hundred percent completely pro-life,” he told me. “I disagree with my donors on many issues, including pro-life, and they don’t expect me to change my position. Because I won’t.”

Lincoln Days

I kept in touch with Auditor Schweich after he became auditor. We meet occasionally for lunch. Our conversations usually touch on politics, but only briefly. Literature, business, and music consume most of our talks.

I hadn’t seen Tom for a few months before Lincoln Days in St. Louis in 2013. On opening night, Auditor Schweich gave a speech that several of my friends found disturbing. Schweich urge all center-right people to look for common ground we could take together. He asked the Republicans assembled to give their fellow conservatives the benefit of the doubt and a little slack.

Again, work kept me from the Friday night opening events, but arrived early on Saturday. I made a point to say “hello” to the Auditor, but he saw me before I saw him. He was on me in a second.

“Listen, Bill, I might have some things last night that you might not like. I wanted to tell you about it myself.”

Different. Other politicians who’ve said things I might not like simply dodged me. Not Tom. As with the Danforth thing, he addressed this issue head on and directly with me. If his words had disappointed me, his courage and straight talk immediately won me back. I’d rather deal with a politician who honestly and openly disagrees with me than with a politician who says one thing and does another.

The Run for Governor

January 2015 is way to early to get too deep into 2016 races, but it’s not too early say this: in a race between Catherine Hanaway and Tom Schweich, my decision is already made. I like Schweich.

You probably know that Rex Sinquefield gave Catherine Hanaway a million dollars last year. While I agree with much of Rex’s philosophy, I question his methods. For all his millions spent to influence issues and elect obedient politicians, his record sucks.

Plus, something about single-source candidates feels unsavory.

Finally, Catherine Hanaway strikes me as a squish. A squish being someone who worries more about being a Republican than about doing the right thing. For example, Hanaway notoriously opposed concealed carry when she was Speaker of the Missouri House. She changed her position only when its unpopularity became impossible to deny.

Tom Schweich has flaws, of course. So do I. And so do you. But “for sale” isn’t one of Tom’s weaknesses. A politician for sale doesn’t address disagreements head-on the way Tom does. And politicians who sell out to the highest bidder don’t waste time scrounging up support from lowly voters like me. They just court a few massive donors and spread the wealth around.

In the race for Missouri Governor, I honestly believe that integrity is an indispensable quality for the Republican candidate. “Integrity” is the first word I think of when trying to describe Tom Schweich.

Here’s What’s Happening on the Muni Courts Front

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He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

— The Declaration of Independence

Back in August, I asked for your help in pushing for municipal court reform.

Cities that abuse their police and courts destroy liberty:

Together, these offenses against liberty and decency rise to the level offenses against which we rebelled in the 18th century.

Auditor Schweich’s Municipal Courts Project

In November, State Auditor Tom Schweich announced the Municipal Courts Project. The Auditor will audit 10 municipalities suspected of violating state limits on fines from traffic tickets. Missouri law requires cities to forfeit to the state revenues from traffic tickets that exceed 30 percent of total revenue.

The law does not prevent cities from enforcing traffic laws for safety. The intends to limit financial incentives for cities to write lots of tickets. I had the honor to stand with Republicans–Auditor Schweich and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann–and Democrats–State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal and State Rep Scott Sifton–as Auditor Schweich announced the project.

Senator Schmitt Steps Up

Today, I had the pleasure to meet with State Senator Eric Schmitt to learn about his efforts to further crack down on the courts. Senator Schmitt has pre-filed legislation for the next general assembly that would reduce the traffic revenue limit to 10 percent from 30 percent. Senator Schmitt and I discussed further legislation, such as:

  • additional penalties for city official who knowingly fail to forfeit excess funds
  • requiring that municipal courts be open to the public
  • prohibiting cities from barring families and children from municipal courts
  • prohibiting cities form locking out defendants before their case is called
  • forcing cities to include all fines, fees, and warrants to the ticket revenue
  • limiting cities’ power to jail people over non-criminal traffic violations (with exceptions for flagrant violations of the court system)

I also recommended as witnesses several people who contacted me about their experiences with municipal courts. And I learned that friend of liberty, State Rep. Paul Curtman, will handle the bill in the House.

Action

Please write your State Representative and State Senator to let them know you support Senator Schmitt’s municipal courts reform. He expects strong opposition from the Municipal League–sort of union for city managers and consultants. This being a bipartisan issue with a strong liberty theme, opponents risk marginalizing themselves.

And say “Thanks” to Tom Schweich (moaudit@auditor.mo.gov) and Eric Schmitt(eschmitt@senate.mo.gov) for stepping up on behalf of people who need a voice in government.