- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A new Missouri law overhauling the state’s municipal courts and police departments violates the separation of powers, defies the state constitution’s limits on unfunded mandates and unfairly singles out the St. Louis area, an attorney representing 12 St. Louis County municipalities told a courtroom Friday.

The cities are seeking to halt a law enacted after the fatal 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson brought national attention to law enforcement tactics in St. Louis County. A U.S. Department of Justice report last March claimed Ferguson had a profit-driven municipal court system and a police force that frequently targeted blacks.

Since then, other cities in St. Louis County have come under increased scrutiny, and in July a measure was signed into law that lowered the percentage of revenue most cities can generate from traffic tickets and court fees from 30 percent to 20 percent. Any extra revenue would go to schools.

But the revenue cap for traffic tickets and court fees is 12.5 percent for municipalities in St. Louis County under the new law. Several other provisions of the law, including requirements for law enforcement accreditation and written policing policies, are also set to only take effect in St. Louis County.

There is a high bar for justifying laws that single out specific parts of the state, said David Pittinsky, a Philadelphia-based attorney representing the 12 cities. The state hasn’t offered enough justification for applying special provisions to St. Louis-area municipalities, he said.

Those provisions apply to cities that meet certain criteria, not cities in a certain area, said Andy Hirth, the deputy general counsel for the Missouri attorney general’s office. Those aspects of the law could eventually apply to communities in Jackson County as well, he said.

Pittinsky said the requirement that cities with police departments achieve one of two specific accreditations - both of which cost thousands of dollars - violates the Missouri Constitution’s prohibition against unfunded mandates.

Hirth said the law isn’t a mandate because municipalities aren’t required to maintain a police force; many St. Louis-area towns contract law enforcement services from other nearby cities.

The law requires cities to file annual reports with the state auditor affirming they are not exceeding the legal caps on revenue from fines and fees. If a city is not meeting those requirements, the director of the Department of Revenue would send notice to the circuit court in that area, which would absorb the municipal court’s jurisdiction.

Pittinsky said the state auditor and revenue department director don’t have the power to administer municipal courts. He said only the Supreme Court can do that.

Hirth said the circuit court would be managing municipal courts, not executive branch employees.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are Bel-Nor, Bel-Ridge, Cool Valley, Glen Echo Park, Moline Acres, Normandy, Northwoods, Pagedale, Uplands Park, Velda Village Hills, Vinita Park and Wellston, along with the mayors of Normandy and Pagedale.

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