Today at 10:00 am, the Missouri State Auditor’s Office released its audit report for the City of Ferguson’s Municipal Court Division, covering an audit period two years ago during fiscal year 2014-2015 (August 1, 2014 – July 31, 2015).
The audit report identifies weaknesses and deficiencies that existed in the municipal court division’s processes and procedures during FY 2014-2015. Most of the identified weaknesses and deficiencies relate to an alleged failure by the City’s municipal court division to implement appropriate controls, processes, and procedures during 2014-2015. The audit report will also contain the municipal court division’s responses to the claimed weaknesses and/or deficiencies identified by the Missouri State Auditor’s Office.
Since the events of August 2014 and beyond, the City’s municipal court division has worked together tirelessly with the Missouri State Auditor’s Office, the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA), and the United States Department of Justice to develop and implement the appropriate controls, process, and procedures to ensure that the municipal court division is in full compliance with all applicable laws. These controls, processes, and procedures were designed to be consistent with Missouri state law governing municipal courts as well as the City of Ferguson’s Consent Decree. While there is still more work to be done, significant progress has been made in developing and implementing the necessary changes. This progress is evidenced by particular acknowledgments made by the auditors in the audit report, the City’s responses to the audit report, as well as recent public statements made by the City and the United States Department of Justice.
Highlighted are a few of the operational changes that have been made to the municipal court division since/during the fiscal year audited and which were not mentioned in the auditor’s report:
- The employee connected to the monies unaccounted for in the audit was terminated.
- The lead court clerk/administrator in charge of the municipal division during the audit period is no longer employed by the City.
- No current municipal division employees were involved in the alleged unaccounted for funds.
- The City repealed 3 ordinances, Ordinance 13.72 in its entirety which abolished a $15.00 letter fee that was assessed when a defendant missed a court hearing. Ordinance 13.70 section 12 which repealed the $50.00 warrant recall fee that was assessed when a warrant was recalled and a bond was not posted. Ordinance 13.58 in its entirety pertaining to the separate offense of failure to appear charge which was issued to a defendant when missed court appearances resulted in an arrest warrant being issued.
- The city council amended the City’s budget to limit and reduce court revenue to 15% of the city’s total estimated revenue. Anything in excess would be used towards projects to benefit the community.
- From September 2014 to April 2015 the Ferguson Judge, started an amnesty program that allowed a person with warrants to come to have their warrant recalled.
- The court added an additional court date that allowed a defendant to come back to court to speak with the Judge if they were unable to make a monthly payment installment and needed other arrangements for their payment plan.
- In March 2015 representatives of OSCA worked with the court clerk to improve procedures to ensure that duties are properly segmented.
- In June 2015 Prosecutor Stephanie Karr dismissed all existing failure to appear cases that were still open but did not have a fine assessed.
- In June 2015 the Court started having defendants sign a form with their rights on it. It is retained in the file.
- In June 2015 Judge McCullin dismissed all open failure to appear cases that has an outstanding balance on it and waived the remaining fine.
- In August 2015 Judge McCullin recalled approximately 9,000 warrants. New Court Dates were mailed out and older cases were forwarded to the Prosecutor for review.
- In August 2015 Judge McCullin sent an order to the Department of Revenue to release every license hold the Ferguson Court had a hold on.
- Over $1.6 million in fines has been waived off on open cases.
- Appointed a Prosecutors clerk to assist the Prosecutor instead of the Court Clerk.
- Court Clerks were given additional training and reoriented to new court processing policies and procedures.
- The Court started its own Community Service program and discontinued using EMASS to supervise community service.
- The Court continues to use Ferguson youth Initiative for Defendants under 19 for community service and counseling
These are just a few changes that have been made to improve the Municipal Court Division within the City of Ferguson. The municipal court staff has worked extremely hard to improve the competency of its division. The City of Ferguson remains dedicated to serving the Ferguson community by continuing to work with the aforementioned agencies in implementing all of the controls, processes, and procedures necessary.