March 25, 2020
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders
Jessica Ciccone, Director of Communications, Saint Louis University School of Law
SETTLEMENT REACHED WITH FERGUSON OVER COURT FEES
A St. Louis County Circuit Judge has given preliminary approval to a nearly $1.7 million settlement of a major class action lawsuit against the City of Ferguson, Missouri, dealing with municipal court abuses which were widely publicized after the killing of Michael Brown in August of 2014. ArchCity Defenders (ACD), the Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics, and the Campbell Law Firm filed the suit in 2015 on behalf of Mr. Roelif Carter, a Ferguson resident representing a class of people harmed by Ferguson’s exploitative and revenue generating practices.
“The settlement affects more than 10,000 citizens of the area who were charged fees for the issuance of warrants or for failing to appear for a municipal court date in Ferguson,” said Michael-John Voss, Co-Founder and Special Projects Director with ArchCity Defenders. “The lead Plaintiff is Roelif Carter, and we thank Mr. Carter for courageously fighting these fees in litigation for many years and we thank him for standing up for all local residents fighting municipal court problems,” said Voss.
“The lawsuit is an example of the problems that went on in Ferguson, and I feel that the settlement is good because people are going through a lot nowadays,” said Mr. Roelif Carter. “Throughout my life, I’ve stood up to injustice, from my time in the Air Force to living in Ferguson. I’ll continue to stand up so things are better for my children and grandchildren.”
Judge Joseph Dueker has approved a settlement of $1,699,405 to be distributed among Mr. Roelif and 10,000 person class as a partial return for the exploitative warrant and failure to appear fees they were charged by Ferguson’s municipal court between 2009 through the present. The parties have valued the total settlement being worth more than $5 million, a value that reflects the additional amount Ferguson would have continued to collect from 2014 through 2022 if it had not stopped charging the improper fees. The class of people who paid the fees will get 80 percent of what they paid back in a refund if they file a claim.
“The killing of Michael Brown brought into sharp focus abuses in municipal courts throughout St. Louis County and across the State. This is just one of many lawsuits which continue to move through the courts to correct these abuses,” said Brendan Roediger, professor and director of the litigation clinic at the SLU LAW Legal Clinics and one of the lawyers for the Plaintiffs. “These fees are not authorized by the Missouri Legislature or the Missouri Supreme Court, and Ferguson has stopped charging such fees.”
The City did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.
An initial fund of $600,000 is being set aside by Ferguson to begin paying claims, and more will be added as claims above that amount are received, up to the $1.7 million amount.
Citizens who think they may have paid one of these fees in Ferguson between December 8, 2009, until today should receive a notice in the mail about the lawsuit, and a web site (www.fergusonfeeclassaction.com) with information about the case and forms to use to file claims will be set up shortly.
A hearing has been scheduled for May 6, 2020 at 1:00 PM for the Court to give final approval to the settlement.
This warrant fee case is the fifth and final lawsuit of its kind to be settled. Campbell Law, ArchCity Defenders, and SLU LAW Legal Clinics reached similar settlements against St. Louis, St. John, Florissant, and Jennings, ending the extortionary practices of the respective municipal courts.
This settlement does not affect the second major class action against Ferguson, brought by ArchCity Defenders, the SLU LAW Legal Clinics, and other law offices in the case of Fant v. Ferguson, which is pending in federal court in St. Louis and claims Ferguson operated a debtors’ prison by jailing people simply because they could not post bond or pay their fines.