The Municipal Courts Initiative, launched in October 2014, adds additional areas of review to the standard court audit process. In addition to reviewing financial transactions, accounting practices, and compliance with court rules and the law, auditors will also consider statistical information on warrants, tickets, and other penalties, and aim to identify activities related to corruption and other practices that may impair impartiality or damage the court's credibility with citizens.
The Municipal Courts Initiative includes municipal courts identified through a number of metrics, including past audit findings, citizen complaints and statistical information provided to the office. As part of the expansion, it also includes municipal courts that are audited in conjunction with a municipality as a citizen-requested petition audit, and additional courts, which may be added based on information provided to the office through citizen and community engagement.
Municipal Court Reform
Municipal court reform legislation in 2015 (Senate Bill 5) changed the percentage of revenue counties or municipalities could keep from fines, bond forfeitures and court costs for minor traffic violations. For any fiscal year beginning on or after on January 1, 2016, the percent lowers to 20% for most of the state and 12.5% for St. Louis County and municipalities within St. Louis County. The 2015 legislation also changed the calculation from traffic violations alone to fines, bond forfeitures and court costs for minor traffic violations.
In accordance with the law, counties and municipalities must include additional information in their required annual financial reports, including certification of the percent of revenue generated from fines, bond forfeitures and court costs for minor traffic violations.
These annual reports are also required to include certification of compliance with a series of municipal court reforms. These reforms include ending the practice of holding a defendant in custody for more than 24 hours without a warrant, prohibiting use of jail time in order to force payment, implementing payment plans and community service alternatives, and holding court proceedings in locations that are accessible by the public.
Annual reports, addendums and court certifications are searchable online here.