Supreme Court of Missouri forms working group to study, make recommendations for improving state's municipal court divisions

14 May 2015

Supreme Court of Missouri forms working group to study, make recommendations for improving state's municipal court divisions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Supreme Court of Missouri today announced the formation of the Supreme Court Municipal Division Work Group, which it has charged with reviewing all matters relevant to practice in the municipal divisions throughout the state, with ensuring public input, and with recommending appropriate improvements to the system.

The Municipal Division Work Group will be co-chaired by two former chief justices of the Supreme Court of Missouri – Ann K. Covington of Columbia and Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr. of Jefferson City – and a former chief judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District – Booker T. Shaw of St. Louis. The group’s remaining members are:

  • Kathryn P. Banks, legal services director for Voices for Children in St. Louis;
  • Sylvester “Sly” James, mayor of Kansas City;
  • Kimberly Jade Norwood, professor of law and of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis; and
  • Todd Thornhill, chief judge of the Springfield municipal court division.

“The Court chose these individuals for their demonstrated leadership in a variety of settings statewide,” Chief Justice Mary R. Russell said. “They bring to the table a wealth of experience, and we trust this ‘blue ribbon’ group to be both thoughtful and outspoken as they tackle the incredibly important work of formulating practical solutions to ensure our state’s municipal court divisions are places where defendants can trust they will be treated fairly and with respect, where their rights will be protected, and where the focus will be on due process of law.”

In addition, the Court invited The Missouri Bar to appoint two members to the working group. Those members are:

  • Reuben Shelton, president of The Missouri Bar and general counsel-litigation for Monsanto in St. Louis; and
  • Karl A.W. DeMarce, associate circuit judge in Scotland County and municipal judge for Memphis, Missouri.

“We appreciate this opportunity provided by the Supreme Court of Missouri to continue to be engaged on behalf of the members of The Missouri Bar to effect needed systemic changes in the municipal court system,” said Missouri Bar President Reuben Shelton of St. Louis. “Part of the Bar’s mission is to educate and protect the public, and this collaborative effort will help make sure the primary role of municipal courts is advancing justice and public safety.”

Specifically, the Court has directed the working group to:

  • Evaluate chapter 479, RSMo, and Rule 37, which govern municipal court divisions, as well as other relevant provisions of the constitution, statutes and rules;
  • Examine relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Rule 2) and Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 4);
  • Review legislation recently enacted by the General Assembly;
  • Analyze comments received by the Supreme Court’s clerk from the public and from lawyers;
  • Study the issues raised by the United States Department of Justice report as well as the report submitted May 11 to the Court from the state courts administrator’s office and Acting Ferguson Municipal Judge Roy L. Richter;
  • Consult with interested groups and hold one or more public hearings so as to ensure public input; and
  • Consider any other relevant information, including recommendations from the National Center for State Courts regarding best practices for municipal court divisions.

The Court has directed the working group then to take what it learns through its process and outline specific suggestions for improving municipal court divisions statewide. These recommendations should include measures the Court can implement through its rulemaking authority as well as recommendations for further action by the legislature or other entities.

“We are giving our working group members full-rein to study our state’s municipal court divisions from all angles,” Russell said. “We expect them to respond with specific solutions for improving our municipal court divisions, not only in St. Louis County but throughout the state. Our hope is that, in time, our municipal court divisions might become a model for the nation.”

The Court expects the group to file its interim report with the Court no later than September 1 and its final report no later than December 1.

The Court's order creating this working group is attached: Supreme Court Municipal Division Work Group order May 14, 2015.pdf