CHICAGO - The Missouri Supreme Court took control of Ferguson's municipal court system Monday in a move that follows a stinging federal report that accused the officials there of abusive practices designed to generate revenue for the court and city coffers.
The Missouri Supreme Court in a statement said it was taking extraordinary action in an attempt "restore public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court division."
Gov. Jay Nixon praised the move. "Today's strong and appropriate actions by the Missouri Supreme Court are a solid step forward," he said.
The report released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division concluded Ferguson police engaged in unlawful and discriminatory practices partially driven by the city's reliance on court fine revenue to support its budget.
The division conducted the review after a white Ferguson police officer shot to death Michael Brown, who was black and was unarmed, in August. The division sought to determine whether police and the courts engaged in widespread patterns or practices in violation of the law or U.S. Constitution, and its answer was "yes."
Questions over aggressive policing tactics and the heavy reliance on court fines to prop up local government budgets followed the shooting and the widespread protests it inspired; critics say stiff court fines imposed by local governments like Ferguson's result in aggressive policing tactics that disproportionally target low-income residents.
Along with taxes and other revenue streams in 2010, the city collected over $1.3 million in fines and fees collected by its court. For fiscal year 2015, Ferguson's city budget anticipates fine revenues to exceed $3 million - more than double the total from just five years earlier, according to the report. The increase was not tied to crime figures.