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LEGAL CHAMPIONS

Eric Schmitt, partner, Lathrop & Gage, St. Louis

Sitting as the chairman of the Committee on Local Government, State Sen. Eric Schmitt noticed there were issueswithin the municipal court system.

Issues with how citations were givenand with how much money cities were making off their poor.

But it wasn’t until the events of August 2014, and the following investigation, that the St. Louis County legislator and Lathrop & Gage partner realized how dire the situation had become.

“What I heard mostly was there had been this breakdown of trust between people and their government, and people and their courts,” Schmitt, R-Glendale, said. “Those are serious issues for our republic.”

Legal Champion recipient, State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, successfully pushed lawmakers to adopt his bill to tighten regulations on municipal courts, particularly those in St. Louis County, in the wake of unrest in Ferguson. Photo by Karen Elshout

Legal Champion recipient, State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, successfully pushed lawmakers to adopt his bill to tighten regulations on municipal courts, particularly those in St. Louis County, in the wake of unrest in Ferguson. Photo by Karen Elshout

Schmitt said what became an easy turn of phrase on social media, “taxation by citation” was very real for the towns and hamlets of St. Louis County. Ticket quotas for officers were in place in some areas, and law enforcement was motivated by the potential loss of their jobs.

“When you see that kind of stuff in this country, that shocks the conscience,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt grew up in north St. Louis County and his grandfather lived in Ferguson. He said that it was both in his role as an attorney, and as a senior member of his delegation that made him feel a sense of responsibility to take action.

“When you see injustice, when you see a threat to liberty, I don’t mean those terms rhetorically,” Schmitt said. “I just felt like this was important for me to put all my efforts in to make sure there was real reform.”

But Schmitt made sure the effort wasn’t only his. The shooting of Michael Brown put a spotlight on Missouri, giving both sides of the political sphere something to rally behind: change.

“When you see long lines of people wrapped around pawn shops to get into a municipal court, that motivated everybody I think, regardless of their party affiliation,”

On multiple occasions Schmitt spoke for reform alongside fellow St. Louis senators Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County. When protests would sometimes turn violent following Brown’s shooting, Schmitt reached out to Chappelle-Nadal, his friend, to make sure she was OK.

“What we ended up with the Governor called the most significant municipal reform bill in the history of the state. And that took the help of a lot of people across the political spectrum,” Schmitt said.

The bipartisan support and game changing level of reform has made Missouri an example for other states, he said, many of which suffer from similar problems.

Schmitt said that he will file legislation this year that will further cap revenue, and prohibit ticket quotas.

One comment

  1. If you think that tickets for vehicular violations were abusive, by the North County municipalities, you never looked into the housing code violations.

    You start with “Debtors Prison” and go from there. Loss of homes; Destruction of buildings without notice; Retaining of insurance proceeds; Refusal to show costs for demolition with retained insurance proceeds; I have years of case files documenting these actions.