The City of Elsberry received some interesting news when a letter from the Office of Court Administrator (OSCA) was sent out to municipality court clerks around the state, stating that the State Attorney General has issued an opinion saying municipal courts should be collecting a $3 Sheriff Retirement Fund court cost in all municipal court cases.
“Most people are under the impression that municipal court is a criminal court; the $3 retirement fund is for all civil cases,” explained Elsberry City Attorney Rob Guinness. “But municipal courts exist in the nether region between criminal and civil and for the most part are designated as civil type.”
The examples Guinness gave were things such as a traffic accident, a breach of contract, etc. were civil cases. A criminal case would be where someone violates the law and can be sent to jail such as murder, theft, assault and so on.
“Municipal courts are more viewed like junior grade type courts because sometimes the judge doesn’t even have to be a lawyer,” said Guinness. “Typically we don’t send people to jail in municipal courts.”
Guinness went on to explain how this statute that municipalities had to have; this $3 fee in all municipal courts used to have a specific exemption. In the mid 90s’ the law was changed to take out that exemption along with some other changes.
“When that change occurred there was two ways to look at it,” said Guinness. “One, it was taken out because it was redundant, because obviously municipal courts should not be collecting this fee, or it was done purposefully to make municipal courts subject to the court cost.”
According to Guinness, the Missouri Attorney General recently took the position that this change was done purposeful and was to reestablish the $3 fee for all municipal cases. However, a Supreme Court case named Harrison states it is important that people have access to the courts and that any court cost imposed should be directly related to the administration of justice in that court.
Guinness went on to say many people seem to take the position that since the county sheriff is not involved in municipal court, any court cost for his fund should not be assessed against municipal court defendants.
“The Missouri Attorney General has an opinion and it’s just that, an opinion,” said Guinness. “Until the Missouri Supreme Court issues a rule, saying that this court cost has to apply or changes their opinion on Harrison we can’t do it.”
According to Guinness, Elsberry Judge Steve Hilleman has the take that this fee should not be collected as it is not correct. Further, he does not collect this fee in other municipalities he works for. Guinness went on to say that Lincoln County Sheriff John Cottle has no opinion either way. However this was second hand information and could not be verified in one direction or the other. One thing Guinness did point out was that the county has been extremely accommodating to Elsberry. He said this was just to point out that even though this is the direction other municipalities are taking it is no reflection on how the city feels about the county sheriff.
“It’s not directed at our sheriff. It’s not because, ‘Hey we don’t like our sheriff, we don’t like what he is doing,” explained Guinness. “We do think our sheriff is entitled to a reasonable retirement because he does good work.”
When the subject was brought up during the Elsberry City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13, the Alderman agreed and decided they would follow the advice of Guinness until a time when it is required to change.
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