Category: Social justice
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.”
Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Sure looked like we expected what we got. [More . . . ]
They were marched into the classroom, single file, and lined up along the blackboard to face the roomful of white faces. It would be sheerest invention to say I remember everything about that day. The only things I recall had to do with questions about how my own situation was about to change.
I’ve been trying to come to terms with Ferguson since it began. The shooting of Michael Browne sparked a response that surprised many people and the counter responses have been equally surprising among certain people, not so much among certain others. Every time I start to write something I find what I intended to say had already been said better elsewhere. [More . . . ]
At Truthout, Mike Lofgren concludes that the formula for predicting future case outcomes of the United States Supreme Court is simple and that references to the Constitution are merely smokescreen. Roberts is well aware of this bait and switch: “Roberts is wise enough to know that and is wise enough to conceal his hand with occasional strategic references to the free speech or free exercise clauses in the First Amendment.” Instead of really upholding constitutional rights, the Roberts court Lofgren states that the cases are results oriented; they are about upholding the superior political privileges of rich interests in society. The unspoken basis is “freedom of contract notion (without government restrictions), from which many subsequent pro-corporation decisions have flowed, the court’s majority was basing its decision on economic ideology rather than constitutional interpretation.”
The Court’s recent ultra-narrow definition of “corruption” is a case in point. [More . . . ]
Many of us “Support the U.S. Troops” in the Middle East even though we have no idea what they are doing on a day to day basis. There is no significant news reporting from the areas where the soldiers do whatever they do, so many Americans fills this vacuum with hopeful imagination. I don’t. I assume the worst. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and there is no sunshine where the U.S. military is operating in the Middle East. At any time over the past ten years, you could read 100 consecutive days of most any local newspaper, and you wouldn’t know anything about the day to day conduct of members of the U.S. military. You would barely know that we were at war. There have been no meaningful photos and no stories to advise us of what is really going on, where our heavily armed military encounters civilians.
Nonetheless, in our ignorance, we declare ALL troops to be heroes, clapping for them at baseball games and other social events, having no idea what they are actually doing. Imagine honoring any other profession, not having any self-critical information with regard to that person’s activities. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me hear a round of applause for Joe, who is a great musician,”imagine everyone in the room clapping, even though none of them had ever heard of Joe, and none of them have heard him play even one note.
Sometimes we do learn what a soldier has actually done, and sometimes it is a actually the story of a hero. Take the case of Hugh Thompson, who stepped up to do what was right, at his own risk:
Returning to the My Lai area at around 0900 after refueling, he noticed that the people he had marked were now dead. Out in a paddy field beside a dike 200 metres (660 ft) south of the village, he marked the location of a wounded young Vietnamese woman. Thompson and his crew watched from a low hover as Captain Ernest Medina (commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment) came up to the woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.
[More . . . ]
Recurring haunting thought: A formal democracy is not at all inconsistent with a country trending toward dictatorship. Given our bizarre national priorities (I’m referring to the various planet-destroying and hyper-xenophobic policies where the aims of the two major parties INTERSECT), one could meaningfully advocate today for a revolution by which the control of the United States government should be handed to the People. I can imagine people scoffing at this idea: “Isn’t that what we already HAVE?” Sure. On the books, that’s what we have.
How much things have changed in the U.S. that so many high-placed prominent government officials publicly construe common folks who want to be well-informed about government misconduct to be dangerous enemies. How far we’ve come, that a former President declares that “America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” How far we’ve come that it’s so difficult to get so many people to wrest themselves from their TV and sports obsessions in order that they can regain focus enough to see the danger of our policies divesting regular folks of any meaningful political power. If this seems like hyperbole, check out “Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America” by John Nichols and Robert McChesney.
Last year my law partner John Campbell and I (we are two of the three attorneys at Campbell Law) donated our time and energy to serve as legal counsel to more than 118,000 Missouri citizens who sought enact a new law to cap the interest rates of payday loans (often 400% to 500% interest per year). What is it like to gather voter signatures when hundreds of thousands of dollars in industry money is pushing back? This excellent article by Propublica details the obstructionist tactic called “blocking” and the misleading ads sponsored by the payday loan industry.
Most people I know are shocked to learn that payday loans carry such high interest rates. If Missouri voters were really allowed to vote on this issue, I do believe that they would overwhelmingly cap interest rates at 36 percent. Last year’s battle was between grass roots supported interest rate caps versus immense amounts of industry money funding an AstroTurf movement. The issue never came to a vote last year–the signature collection efforts barely fell short.
In 2014, we are looking to try once again to cap these predatory loans that are deceptive and dangerous products for most of those who fall prey to using them.