A St. Louis County Circuit judge has given preliminary approval to a nearly $1.7 million settlement on a class-action lawsuit. It affects about 10,000 people who were charged fees for the issuance of warrants or for failing to appear for a municipal court date in Ferguson, said Michael-John Voss, co-founder and special projects director with ArchCity Defenders.
These municipal court abuses were at the heart of the Ferguson uprising, which began after the killing of Michael Brown in August of 2014 and continued for about two years. Roelif Carter, a 62-year-old disabled military veteran, who depends on disability payment and food stamps, filed the case represented by ArchCity Defenders, the Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics, and the Campbell Law Firm.
“The lead plaintiff is Roelif Carter, and we thank Mr. Carter for courageously fighting these fees in litigation for many years and we thank him for standing up for all local residents fighting municipal court problems,” said Voss.
Carter said that the lawsuit represents major problems in Ferguson.
“I feel that the settlement is good because people are going through a lot nowadays,” said Carter. “Throughout my life, I’ve stood up to injustice, from my time in the Air Force to living in Ferguson. I’ll continue to stand up so things are better for my children and grandchildren.”
The city did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement. The American reached out to the city’s attorney for comment and is awaiting a response.
Circuit Judge Joseph Dueker has approved a settlement of $1,699,405 to be distributed among Roelif and 10,000 person class, as a partial return for the exploitative warrant and failure to appear fees they were charged by Ferguson’s municipal court between 2009 through the present. The parties have valued the total settlement being worth more than $5 million — a value that reflects the additional amount Ferguson would have continued to collect from 2014 through 2022 if it had not stopped charging the improper fees, attorneys said. The class of people who paid the fees will get 80 percent of what they paid back in a refund if they file a claim.
“The killing of Michael Brown brought into sharp focus abuses in municipal courts throughout St. Louis County and across the state,” said Brendan Roediger, professor and director of the litigation clinic at the SLU LAW Legal Clinics and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs. “This is just one of many lawsuits which continue to move through the courts to correct these abuses. These fees are not authorized by the Missouri Legislature or the Missouri Supreme Court, and Ferguson has stopped charging such fees.”
An initial fund of $600,000 is being set aside by Ferguson to begin paying claims, attorneys said, and more will be added as claims above that amount are received, up to the $1.7 million amount.
Thecase is the fifth and final lawsuit of its kind to be settled. Campbell Law, ArchCity Defenders, and SLU LAW Legal Clinics reached similar settlements against St. Louis, St. John, Florissant, and Jennings, ending the extortionary practices of the respective municipal courts.
This settlement does not affect the second major class action against Ferguson, brought by ArchCity Defenders, the SLU LAW Legal Clinics, and other law offices in the case of Fant v. Ferguson, which is pending in federal court in St. Louis and claims Ferguson operated a debtors’ prison by jailing people simply because they could not post bond or pay their fines.
Citizens who think they may have paid one of these fees in Ferguson between December 8, 2009, until today should receive a notice in the mail about the lawsuit, and a website (www.fergusonfeeclassaction.com) with information about the case and forms to use to file claims will be set up shortly.
A hearing has been scheduled for May 6, 2020 at 1 p.m. for the court to give final approval to the settlement.