Missouri city agrees to $1.7 million payout for charging blacks extra court fees
The city of Ferguson, Mo., agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged the municipal court unfairly singled out African American motorists and indigent people by assessing extra fees.
The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the preliminary settlement, signed by the plaintiffs and defendant on March 23. The settlement allows for the return of 80% of the total amount in extra fees collected by the city of Ferguson since 2009. The total amount of extra fees collected was $2.1 million, according to the settlement agreement.
Fees titled “failure to appear” and “warrant recall” had been adopted by ordinance and court order in the mid-2000s, according to Michael John Voss, who represented the plaintiffs pro bono.
“These practices violate the clear mandates of the U.S. Constitution and they destroy the public’s confidence in the justice system,” said Voss. “Furthermore, indiscriminately ticketing and fining the poorest in any community exacerbates the plight of low-income families by imposing heavy financial burdens on those least equipped to bear it.”
The fees ranged from $35 for failure to appear and $50 to $150 for warrant recall, Voss said. He said that 86% of vehicle stops involved a black motorist. Blacks make up 67% of the population compared to whites, who comprise 29% of the population of Ferguson and only 12.7% of vehicle stops.
“Many recounted being mistreated by the bailiffs, city prosecutors, court clerks, and even some judges,” said Voss.
Repayment of the extra fees to the class of some 10,000 people who paid the fees require filing a claim.
Ferguson City Attorney Apollo Carey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Clients reported being jailed because they were unable to pay fines,” Voss said. “Some who have been incarcerated for delinquent fine payments lost jobs and housing as a result. Indigent mothers’“failed to appear’ in court and had warrants issued for their arrest after arriving early or on-time to court and being turned away because that particular municipality prohibits children in court.”
Ferguson isn’t the only municipality accused of allegedly charging the illegal fees. Municipal courts in St. Louis, St. John, Florissant and Jennings have also settled, Missouri Lawyers Media reported