Ferguson Court Improves,|But a Long Way to Go

     JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Ferguson’s embattled municipal court has taken steps to restore public confidence after a scathing report from the Department of Justice, but more changes are needed, a judge told the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday.
     The state supreme court appointed Acting Ferguson Judge Roy Richter to take over the Ferguson municipal court shortly after the Justice Department issued its report in March. Richter submitted his report to the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday.
     He cited these continuing problems:
     – The city shifted supervision of court clerk staff from the chief of police to the city finance manager, but this poses a conflict of interest and could place undue pressure on court staff to focus on revenue instead of fairness and due process of law.
     – Prosecutors do not review case files unless an attorney enters an appearance, a judge or defendant ask questions about it or the defendant requests a trial.
     – Prosecutors do not review case filings until after they are filed in court, in violation of Missouri Supreme Court rules that require the prosecutor to review all information and then sign it and file it with the court.
     – Ferguson hired an outside vendor to store and administer court records, in violation of Missouri Supreme Court rules.
     – There are no safeguards to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to this data.
     The report cites these positive steps that have been taken:
     – Failure to appear charges have been eliminated.
     – Fines have become more uniform.
     – The court no longer arrests defendants who are unable to pay their fines.
     – The court makes sure the defendants understand their rights.
     – The court is improving the process for handling bonds for arrest warrants.
     – The court follows state law regarding the suspension of a defendant’s driver’s license.

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