ST. LOUIS — A $3 court surcharge for the Sheriffs' Retirement Fund is at the center of a potential constitutional battle between sheriffs and judges in Missouri.
While $3 may not seem like a lot, it can become a burden on those in the system who are struggling to get by, which is what has judges in the municipal court system of Missouri concerned. They say that defendants in various cases may be unable to afford to pay that on top of other legal fees that they are presented with. Such fees and surcharges can often become difficult depending on how long the case takes to resolve.
The surcharge applies to court appearances for issues as mundane as parking tickets, said C.F. Barnes, executive director of the Sheriffs' Retirement Fund.
The sheriffs say that the $3 surcharge is needed. The fund took a hit during the 2008 recession and was unable to remain fully compensated with the surcharge solely coming in from the circuit and district courts, Barnes said. It is still collected in those courts in addition to being collected from the municipal courts today.
“We have collected $9 million (in surcharges) from the other courts,” Barnes told the St. Louis Record.
Although the payments from the municipal courts are recent in Missouri, there has been a statute about it for much longer. It just has not been enforced until recently, unlike the payments from the circuit and district courts, which have been enforced for the entire time that defendants in cases from those courts have been required to pay a surcharge into the Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund.
“For some reason in 1996, they added the municipal courts (to pay the $3 surcharge),” Barnes said.
Although there is contention on how constitutional such a surcharge is, there is also another issue at hand – how long the fund will be able to remain at capacity without it. Despite the boost of money from the municipal courts, the fund is still not flush, and it is not known how or when it will be.
“We (the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund) are only 86 percent funded at this time,” Barnes said.
Of the more than 600 cities in Missouri with a municipal court, only 350 of them have sent in the surcharge from the municipal courts. Barnes said most of this is due to issues about paperwork pertaining to how the payments were sent in, which can easily be remedied.
However, Barnes said there are about 30 cities that are deliberately not paying the $3 surcharge from the municipal courts. He did not say which cities or judges have taken that stance at this time.