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New Ferguson Judge Has Wide Latitude To Make Changes


We turn now to the ongoing fallout from the scathing Justice Department report on the police department and municipal court in Ferguson, Mo. Last night Ronald Brockmeyer resigned as the city's municipal judge. A state appeals court judge, Roy Richter, will hear all cases in the city starting next week. He'll have wide latitude to change the way Ferguson's court operates. St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann has more.

RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: In a statement released last night, Mary Russell, Missouri's chief judge, acknowledges that the steps taken in Ferguson are extraordinary, but necessary to help restore confidence in the municipal court. The Department of Justice report found the court was focused primarily on maximizing revenue. Municipal court reform advocates here, like Thomas Harvey, are cautiously optimistic that the move could signal a trend. Harvey contends that the Ferguson court isn't even the worst offender.

THOMAS HARVEY: At some point, there will be emerging evidence of similar practices in other courts and the Missouri Supreme Court is going to be faced with the question of, why don't we do the same thing for that court that we did for Ferguson?

LIPPMANN: Intervention by a higher court in the affairs of a lower one isn't unheard of, but it is unusual. The co-chairs of the governor's Ferguson Commission, set-up to study racial and economic disparities in the region, want Missouri to review all municipal courts and intervene where needed. Reggie Jones is the mayor of Dellwood, Ferguson's tiny neighbor to the north. He says he's already done what he can to try and make his municipal court a little better, by announcing a complete amnesty for all traffic tickets issued before April 11, 2012. That's the last day the city had its own police department. And Jones also asked for, and got, Ronald Brockmeyer's resignation as Dellwood's prosecutor.

MAYOR REGGIE JONES: I think, actually, he's made our courts a little more efficient as far as the process and speeding the process up, as a prosecutor. But in light of what happened in our neighboring city, I just, you know, didn't think it was a good idea to have our city associated with those type of actions that are going on next-door.

LIPPMANN: If you're thinking that name sounds familiar, it should. Brockmeyer was the judge in one town, the prosecutor in another, and he's still a judge in a third city and the prosecutor in two more. It's not an uncommon arrangement in and around St. Louis. In a statement announcing his Ferguson resignation, Brockmeyer insisted that he had never been unfair to defendants in his courtroom, but acknowledged that the criticism had reduced confidence in his court. Meanwhile, the city of Ferguson announced today that it looks forward to working with Judge Richter but officials plan to start the search for a new municipal judge soon. Mayor James Knowles says in a statement they're looking for a reform-minded person to lead the court in what will undoubtedly be a new direction. For NPR News I'm Rachel Lippmann in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.