New Ferguson municipal judge hears first round of cases

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FERGUSON, MO (KTVI) – The judge recently appointed to head the Ferguson municipal court announced a change on his first night on the bench. Judge Roy Richter said he’s changing the fee scale so it is more in line with St. Louis County and other municipalities.

Richter read a statement to those attending Ferguson municipal court Thursday night. The statement explained how the courts operate and how he will operate.

This was the municipal court's first session since embattled judge Ronald Brockmeyer stepped down.

Richter said if people unable to pay their fines are willing to show up in court and explain why they can’t pay them, he will not send them to jail.

“He’s being fair with everybody,” said Tina Heffner, who was among a crowd of about a hundred people who entered Ferguson City Hall to either pay fines or ask for a dismissal of their case.

“He’s giving a lot of people a lot of breaks in there,” she said.

The Missouri Supreme Court appointed Judge Roy Richter to handle the caseload. A statement from the state chief justice’s office indicated Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to the courts’ practices and will be able and willing to implement needed reforms. The statement went on to indicate it’s not just Ferguson; it’s entirely possible statewide changes are needed to the judicial system.

And while others agreed Judge Richter seems fair, some felt a new judge cannot bring about necessary changes.

“I don’t think a new judge will change the way ordinances are enforced,” said Mark Morris.  He said a traffic stop for not using a blinker turned into a $300 fine.

“Once the police cite me, it’s too late for a judge to make a difference,” he said Morris.

The Ferguson court system came under fire via a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The DoJ report exonerated Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson but found the city’s court system heightened tensions among residents by operating as a de facto collection agency for the city. The report found that minor offenses turned into major problems if the recipient of a ticket didn't have enough money to pay a fine. Such offenders would end up with a jail sentence instead.