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Latest report finds progress in Ferguson municipal court

Ferguson courthouse
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
A report from Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway finds progress in the Ferguson muncipal court, shown here in a file photo.

Updated August 13 at 2 p.m. with comments from the city and auditor — A new report from state Auditor Nicole Galloway finds the city of Ferguson has made important changes to its municipal court.

But the audit released Monday also found city officials still have not taken action to secure and repair damaged court documents.

“When we conducted our follow-up review, we found that things are getting better within the Ferguson municipal court,” Galloway said. “However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Galloway found that Ferguson has put in place more checks and balances to ensure that the right people are handling money and making changes to court cases. The city along with the Department of Justice developed new procedures for court staff, and Ferguson is making sure everyone is properly trained.

But Galloway’s review found the city still isn’t documenting all the warrants it issued. And she was most concerned that non-court employees could still access court records from cases earlier than 2014. In addition, the city had not taken any steps to repair documents that were damaged when the ceiling of the municipal garage where they were stored leaked. In 2016, Galloway’s office paid to remediate mold and damage of some records in order to be able to conduct its first audit.

Ferguson City Manager DeCarlon Seewood said the mold problems in the garage had been addressed, although he did not specifically discuss if the documents had been fixed.

“There is a way to lock that area so it’s only accessible to court staff,” Seewood said of concerns about security. “And most of those files are already electronically stored. It’s not files that people are looking at on a regular basis.”

Monday’s report is a follow-up to a 2017 review that found a court in “disarray.” The initial audit — one of a series of reviews of municipal courts in the wake of Michael Brown’s 2014 death — accused the city of levying thousands of dollars in illegal fees and having lax supervision of people handling the money.

Ferguson officials at the time called the report unfair, noting that it covered a period before the city agreed to make substantial changes to its municipal court to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The updated findings vindicate the hard work of the court staff, Seewood said.

“Overall, our staff has really done a tremendous job to fix some of these issues and really move the court processes forward,” he said.

Galloway said her first audit outlined the improvements Ferguson needed to make.

“This audit did point out mistakes of the past, so there is a path forward to correct them,” she said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann



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

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