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Organizer Says County Warrant Forgiveness Program A Success Regardless Of Final Numbers

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The month-long warrant forgiveness program in St. Louis County is a success, according to one of the organizers behind it. Even though the final number of participants isn't yet known. 

Seventy of the county's 82 municipal courts agreed to cancel arrest warrants of people who had failed to take care of minor traffic offenses and ordinance violations for a $100 bond. The social service agency Better Family Life helped the St. Louis County Municipal Court Improvement Committee coordinate the program.

The final number of people who stepped up to take advantage of the program won't be available until next week, said Frank Vatterott, the municipal judge in Overland and the chair of the court improvement committee. But he called it a success even without that information.

"It gave us the foot in the door to be working as a unit," Vatterott said. "We've all gotten to know each other. We're sort of 82 different ships - some of us are going straight, some of us are going sideways. And we need to help our fellow court administrators and judges understand the ramifications of this post-Ferguson era."

Vatterott's committee is drafting a series a proposed reforms for county municipal courts. The voluntary changes -- which will be presented to municipal judges, prosecutors and court administrations at the end of January --  include a uniform set of fees for all 82 courts, pro-bono legal advice for municipal defendants, and lobbying for a full-time municipal court administrator.

City Numbers

More than 7,500 people  -- about 10 percent of those who were eligible -- took advantage of the city's warrant amnesty, which did not require a $100 bond. Spokeswoman Maggie Crane said about 1,300 of those came in the last day.

The city always has a warrant forgiveness program, Crane said, where defendants can pay $35 to cancel a municipal warrant, with $10 for each additional one. Defendants must still pay the fine for the underlying offense, but the city recently required judges to consider ability to pay into account when determining the size of a fine.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.