Sitting Franklin County Municipal Judge Craig Hellmann will be sworn in as a circuit judge at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26, leaving a vacancy at the county for the first time since the court was established five years ago.
Hellmann was appointed to the 20th Judicial Circuit by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to fill the seat of former Presiding Judge Gael Wood, who retired in October.
Presiding Judge Ike Lamke will now select the county municipal judge replacement to serve throughout 2018.
According to Franklin County Counselor Mark Vincent, the new county municipal judge must come from a small pool of sitting municipal judges currently serving cities in the 20th Judicial Circuit encompassing Franklin, Gasconade and Osage counties.
With several of those judges serving multiple municipalities, Judge Lamke will have only seven candidates to choose from.
Vincent said the county will miss its last municipal court proceedings in December, but expects the new municipal judge to be named and sworn in by early January.
As of Jan. 1, Franklin County will have six municipal courts, Gasconade County will have five and Osage County will have two.
In addition to the county itself, the cities of New Haven, Pacific, St. Clair, Sullivan and Union will operate municipal courts in 2018.
David Arand serves as municipal judge in Union and St. Clair, Dan Leslie in Pacific, Scott Fulford in New Haven and Dan Randazzo in Sullivan.
In Gasconade County, the cities of Bland, Hermann, Owensville and Rosebud will have municipal courts.
David Baylard presides in Hermann and Owensville, Joe Purchske presides in West Sullivan and Rosebud, and Kenneth Brison is the municipal court judge in Bland.
After a state Supreme Court ruling in September 2016, imposing new rules on municipal courts, the cities of Washington, Berger, Gasconade and Gerald decided to disband their courts.
The “Rule 37” imposes new segregations of powers and staffing requirements, among other stipulations.
It requires the municipal court to be in a separate facility than the city’s police department and stipulates that a dedicated court clerk be available 30 hours a week to accept payments, and the employee cannot be employed by another city department.
By disbanding their courts all municipal violations, including city ordinances and speeding tickets, for those communities are handled in the circuit courts.
Business also picked up significantly at the county municipal court this year with 450 more tickets written this year in Franklin County than all of 2016.
According to county municipal court records, as of Nov. 13, 3,831 tickets had been written either by sheriff’s deputies or for planning and zoning or building violations. In 2016, the combined total was 3,388.
Of the tickets this year, 70 were planning and zoning violations and 10 were building violations.
The remaining 363 were written by sheriff’s deputies and then disposed through the county municipal court, which thus far has opened 4,717 cases in 2017.
About 50 percent pay the ticket by mail. Another 40 percent get a lawyer or show up in court and the other 10 percent give no response at all.
Vincent said he expects the municipal court cases to increase even more in 2018 due to more commercial vehicle violations being ticketed.