City officials are working with Judge A. David Arand to make sure the city is in compliance with a September 2016 Supreme Court ruling that imposes new regulations for municipal courts.
The ruling requires changes be made by July 1.
City Administrator Russell Rost said that most people believe the ruling is in response to the unrest in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown.
“Some municipalities don’t have public utilities, so a large portion of their revenue came from municipal court fines,” Rost explained.
The law sets limits on how much of a city’s budget can be comprised from traffic fines, as well as outlines changes in how municipalities operate.
In Union, a very small percentage of the city’s budget comes from those types of fines, Rost said.
“Our court operates to protect the quality of life in our city and deal with issues unique to municipalities,” he said. “It’s not there to be a revenue source.”
The rules are interpreted differently among municipalities but the primary concerns of some area officials are requirements that a facility be operated independently of other city departments, and have a dedicated court staff member.
Rost said the city does not need a separate building, but instead, separate court offices. “They’re looking for a separation between police, prosecutor, municipal court judge and clerk,” he said
The city has a separate office for city prosecutor to use from the judge and clerk.
Additionally, the prosecutors records and court records are being separated to comply with the law.
Rost said the ruling would require municipal courts to operate with procedures similar to state courts.
There will be additional expenses placed on municipalities. Rost said the Legislature has not appointed any funds to help cities with the transition, which has led to opponents calling the law an “unfunded mandate.”
“It certainly smells like one,” he said.
The law significantly impacts the municipal government’s ability to control issues that are unique to municipalities, he said.
The city of Washington voted this week to disband the municipal court at the end of the year (see article in this issue).
Judge Arand, who is municipal judge for the cities of St. Clair and Union, said St. Clair is in compliance with the law, and its municipal court has no intention to disband.