The following press release was issued today regarding suits filed by my law firm (Campbell Law, LLC) working alongside the Law Clinic of St. Louis University School of Law and ArchCity Defenders. At issue are illegal fees being charged by many municipalities. In this particular set of cases, many cities are charging people “warrant fees” when they attempt to pay overdue traffic offenses. We’ve alleged that these fees are illegal because they are prohibited by Missouri State Law. We intend to pursue additional cases regarding illegal municipal fees as additional violations and victims come to light. My law partners ( John Campbell and Alicia Campbell ) and I are proud to be part of this endeavor.
Here is today’s press release:
SEVEN CITIES ARE SUED FOR COLLECTING ILLEGAL FEES IN MUNICIPAL COURTS
St. Louis (Dec. 9, 2014) – A team of attorneys from three public interest law offices filed class action lawsuits against seven St. Louis County municipalities for charging illegal fees in their municipal courts. The lawsuits come amid new scrutiny of municipal courts and the systemic issues of high fees and warrants that adversely affect low-income defendants.
The class action lawsuits were filed against Ferguson, a city at the center of the focus on policing and municipal courts, as well as Beverly Hills, Fenton, Jennings, Pine Lawn, Wellston and Velda City. The suits claim that fees for warrants are not authorized by state law.
Plaintiffs in the seven separate suits are represented by attorneys John Campbell, Alicia Campbell and Erich Vieth of the private public interest law firm of Campbell Law, LLC; Thomas Harvey and Michael-John Voss of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit organization serving the homeless and working poor; and Professors John Ammann and Brendan Roediger of the Saint Louis University Legal Clinics.
“There are serious problems in our municipal courts, and these lawsuits are an attempt to hold these cities accountable by forcing them to remedy the wrongs of the past,” said John Campbell of Campbell Law.
Professor Brendan Roediger of the Saint Louis University Legal Clinics said, “Our goal is to stop cities from filling their coffers with illegal fees and from continuing to conduct for-profit policing.”
“The cities have charged an untold amount of money illegally to thousands of people; money that could have gone to help families and help the economy,” said Thomas Harvey, executive director of ArchCity Defenders. “We hear municipal officials and police repeatedly say citizens must be held accountable for their actions. Now it is time for these municipalities to be held accountable.”
The lawsuits call for a judgment that the fees violate state law, an accounting of who paid the illegal fees and how much, and for reimbursement to defendants who were forced to pay the fees to avoid jail time or warrants. The suits also include a claim under the Missouri Merchandise Practices Act, the state’s consumer fraud statute, alleging the cities attempted to deceive defendants into paying the fees.
Ferguson recently repealed the ordinances charging the illegal fees, but made no effort to reimburse defendants who were charged the illegal amounts, including a $50 warrant recall fee and a $15 failure to appear letter fee.
The team of lawyers expects to file lawsuits against additional cities in St. Louis County in the near future.
For more on these issues, check out this detailed article in the Washington Post: “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty.”