A $3.00 court fee applied to traffic tickets now under scrutiny

A $3.00 court fee charged to municipal court tickets that funds sheriff’s pensions is under scrutiny in Missouri.

Missouri’s municipal courts began in 2014 to charge a $3.00 court fee to defendants to help fund the Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund. However, some judges and legal scholars are questioning whether the charge is constitutional because the sheriff’s department does not operate at the municipal level.

As many retirement funds for government workers were having trouble receiving funding in Missouri and other states, that has not been the case for the sheriff’s fund. The $3.00 charge ended up increasing the retirement fund significantly, up more than $10 million in assets between 2012 and 2015.

Many sheriff employees throughout the state, particularly in rural areas, receive low wages and depend upon the fund’s pension to live off of after retirement.

The attorney general at the time, Chris Koster, issued three opinions that indicated the $3.00 court fee that funds sheriff’s pensions should be applied to the state’s municipal courts. The Missouri Supreme Court, which prior to this third opinion issued, had not approved the fee to be used at the municipal court level. But this last time in 20163 the court approved it, adding the fee to traffic tickets and other tickets at the municipal level in 2014. The charge applied to all municipal courts except for St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis.

Approximately 362 of the 608 cities, villages and towns in Missouri that have a municipal court may be refusing to charge the $3.00 sheriffs fun charge to municipal court cases. This now has the Sheriffs’ Retirement System seeking help to the municipal level governments to charge the fee and pass on the money.

C.F. Barnes, executive director of the retirement system, sent letters on March 6 to Circuit Clerks in 102 Missouri counties, asking them to enforce the Missouri Supreme Court’s August 2013 order to apply the surcharge to court cases.

This is setting up a fight between the Supreme Court, municipal courts and the Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund. Stay tuned as this story progresses.

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