The city of Ferguson, Missouri, has agreed to a $1.7 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused its municipal court of charging illegal court fees, attorneys involved in the case said Wednesday.
A judge on Tuesday approved a preliminary settlement. A final hearing is scheduled for May 6.
The class-action lawsuit was among several filed in the wake of protests that followed the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9, 2014. The officer, Darren Wilson, was not charged, but the shooting led to intense scrutiny of Ferguson’s police and municipal court. The U.S. Department of Justice found that Ferguson was using its court system to generate revenue, largely on the backs of poor and black people.
The scrutiny spread to other municipal courts in the St. Louis area. At least four other settlements have been reached with other municipal courts in St. Louis, St. John, Florissant and Jennings.
Ferguson City Attorney Apollo Carey did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The city did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.
Michael-John Voss of ArchCity Defenders, one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs, said the settlement affects more than 10,000 people who were charged fees for the issuance of warrants or for failure to appear in court, dating back to 2009. Those who paid the fees will get 80% of what they paid in a refund if they file a claim, attorneys said.
“The killing of Michael Brown brought into sharp focus abuses in municipal courts throughout St. Louis County and across the state. This is just one of many lawsuits which continue to move through the courts to correct these abuses,” Brendan Roediger of the St. Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Roediger said the fees were not authorized by the state legislature or the Missouri Supreme Court. Ferguson no longer charges those fees.