When asked to comment on the Justice Department report that found “significant evidence” of racial bias in Ferguson, Missouri’s court system, Ferguson municipal judge Ronald Brockmeyer was dismissive, telling the New York Times, “Suggest you come to court someday and see for yourself that the allegations are unfounded.” On Monday Judge Brockmeyer, who was repeatedly accused of abusive practices in the report, resigned, and the Missouri Supreme Court announced that it is essentially taking over Ferguson’s court system. Explaining that “extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson,” the state’s chief justice said all of the city’s municipal court cases will be reassigned to a state appeals court judge until further notice.
In addition to hearing all pending and future municipal cases in Ferguson, Judge Roy Richter of the Missouri Court of Appeals has been tasked with implementing “needed reforms to court policies and procedures in Ferguson to ensure that the rights of defendants are respected and to help restore the integrity of the system,” according to a statement from Missouri’s Supreme Court. The unusual move was widely praised as a sign that Missouri officials are taking steps to address the civil-rights abuses detailed in the DOJ report, which stemmed from the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer last August.
Richter is chairman of the body of the Supreme Court that trains municipal judges, and he urged municipal court officials to implement a series of reforms earlier this year. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he would like to implement more “standard” fines and make the court more accessible to the public. “Lawyers in general, and judges in particular, want the judicial system to operate fairly for all those who deal with the Courts,” Richter wrote in an email. “If that hasn’t been the case in Ferguson or anywhere else in Missouri, that needs to change — and that’s important.”
The DOJ report said Brockmeyer helped Ferguson generate money from disproportionately black defendants by introducing new and possibly unlawful fees, then jailing those who couldn’t pay in a timely fashion. He was also accused of dismissing tickets for himself and his colleagues, and The Guardian reported that he owes $172,646 in federal taxes.
Brockmeyer admitted no wrongdoing even as he stepped down. He told the Post-Dispatch that his main reason for resigning was that his family was receiving death threats. “I don’t believe the report was correct,” Brockmeyer said, “but it’s not worth fighting.” (He added that he’s making monthly payments to the IRS, and they’re on time.) Brockmeyer has resigned from his part-time position as a prosecutor in Dellwood, but according to the New York Times, he’ll keep his other positions in St. Louis County, serving as a judge in Breckenridge Hills and a prosecutor in Vinita Park and Florissant.