Sheriff Pension Fund court fee is in litigation

The controversy about a $3.00 assessed court fee continues to linger. The approximate $3 million generated from the fee goes to reimburse the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund fee. However, opponents of it say it may be unconstitutional.  Now the issue is being heard in court.

Columnist Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently wrote an interesting piece on this controversy. This fee has been charged since 2013 by municipal courts, including traffic tickets in Missouri. However, the original statute from 1983 was only applied to the circuit court when it was originally introduced. And the law never changed since then. Yet municipal courts started to charge it.

Messenger says several big political players played some role in getting the fee established, including the following: Gov. Mike Parson; Former state Rep. Caleb Jones; Former Attorney General Chris Koster; and several of the sitting members of the current Missouri Supreme Court.

This issue with the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund fee came to light in 2008, according to testimony at a recent trial. That was when the stock market crashed, reducing the amounts in many pension fund portfolios.  That’s when the idea of applying the $3.00 fee to municipal cases was introduced.

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.

To get the fee passed on through to the municipal courts to start charging it took a lot of political persuasion, and Messenger highlights it in his column.  Now, some judges and legal scholars are questioning whether the charge is constitutional because the sheriff’s department does not operate at the municipal level.

Messenger writes that this issue is a “small piece of a larger national pie, in which criminal justice reform advocates are pushing back at the persistent national crisis, the criminalization of poverty by stacking court costs and fines atop each other until they add up to real money.”

Stay tuned to see where this issue goes next.

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