The amount of money Franklin County schools receive from court fines and forfeitures has been cut by more than half in the last seven years due in part to the formation of the county municipal court.
This year, 14 school districts will divvy up $572,525 in forfeitures and fines collected by the 20th Judicial Circuit in the past 12 months.
In 2011, the last year before the Franklin County Municipal Court was established, that disbursement was $1.4 million.
According to county documents, the high water mark for money going into the school fund was 2011.
Each year since then, the total amount from fines and forfeitures at the circuit court level has dropped annually by $100,000. Total funds awarded to schools is down $827,475 since 2011.
Since the creation of the court in 2012, the money going to the school districts from the courts has dropped an average of $103,000 each year.
The largest drop between two years was between 2014 and 2015 when the disbursement dropped $238,000 from $1.05 million to $812,000.
In 2017, both Washington and Gerald disbanded their municipal courts, sending those cases into the circuit court system.
In 2012, Franklin County instituted a municipal court to alleviate the backlogged caseload at the circuit court level and generate more funds for the county.
At its inception, the court was expected to generate $100,000 in annual revenues, instead, according to the county treasurer’s office, it has averaged collections of $504,023 each year for a total of $3.5 million to date.
The court handles traffic citations, county planning and zoning code violations and county health and building code violations.
In addition to prompting lawsuits from citizens, which have cost the county tens of thousands of dollars to defend, concerns were raised when it was conceived and implemented that it was formed under false pretenses, by stating that the circuit court was not doing its job and these cases were being delayed, and that the state courts have more important cases to handle.
There is no restriction on the age of municipal court judges and only two of the five who have served Franklin County in the past seven years have been elected.
In 2018, former 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Gael Wood, although mandated to retire from the state court system at age 70, was elected and is the current municipal court judge for Franklin County.
The first municipal court judge, Walter Murray, appointed by the county commission in 2012, was also retired from the circuit courts.
Murray retired from the municipal court judgeship in 2016 and former Washington attorney and longtime Washington municipal court judge Craig Hellmann was elected to the seat.
In the summer of 2017, the Washington city council voted to disband its municipal court.
Hellmann had served as the municipal court judge for Washington from 1990 until it disbanded Jan. 1, 2018.
In October 2017, Judge Wood was forced to retire from the circuit court, and one month later Hellmann was appointed by then Gov. Eric Greitens to fill out the remaining time on Wood’s term in the circuit court.
Upon Hellmann’s ascendency, 20th District Presiding Judge Ike Lamke named Union attorney Scott Fulford, who also was the municipal judge in New Haven and the prosecutor in Owensville, to the municipal judge seat.
Fulford did not seek election to the municipal court and held the position until Judge Wood took office Jan. 1.
Fines collected by the circuit court are separated into several funds within the county and multiple departments in turn benefit.
Before its formation, when these cases were held at the circuit court level, fines and forfeitures were all added to the same account and were then dispersed to various funds at the state and county level.
In addition to whatever fines are issued through judgments, defendants also must pay mandatory court costs of $47.50.
Those fees are split up as follows:
Court costs, typically are $47.50 with $25.87 staying in the county and $21.63 going to the state of Missouri.
Here is a breakdown of where the money goes:
• General fund — 37 cents;
• Law enforcement training — $2;
• Law enforcement sales tax — $10;
• Prosecuting attorney training — 50 cents;
• Municipal court costs revenue — $1;
• Judicial education fund — $12.
An additional $21.63 also goes to the state of Missouri. That breakdown is as follows:
• Crime victims compensation — $7.13;
• PA training and staff — 50 cents;
• Independent living center — $1;
• Motorcycle safety trust — $1;
• Head injury fund — $2;
• Spinal cord injury fund — $2;
• Peace officer standards/training — $1;
• Sheriff retirement — $3;
• State prosecuting/circuit attorney retirement — $4.
On Tuesday, the Franklin County Commission gave its approval to County Clerk Tim Baker to release the monies to the school districts in Franklin, Gasconade, Washington and Crawford counties.
The amount received by a school district is based on a percentage calculated by the number of students in each district.
The districts with the higher number of students are in line to receive a larger portion of the fines and forfeitures.
Franklin County R-2 — $6,976;
Meramec Valley R-3 — $113,885;
Union R-11 — $124,073;
St. Clair R-13 — $79,879;
Lonedell R-14 — $16,296;
Spring Bluff R-15 — $11,304;
Strain Japan R-16 — $3,351;
New Haven — $18,484;
Washington — $118,668;
Gasconade County R-1 — $3,675;
Gasconade County R-2 — $19,488;
Washington County R-7 — $713;
Crawford County R-1 — $39; and
Sullivan — $55,688.