Ferguson, Mo., agreed to pay nearly $1.7 million to settle a five-year-old lawsuit alleging that the city charged illegal court fees, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A preliminary settlement of the class-action lawsuit was approved by St. Louis County Circuit Judge Joseph Dueker. Lawyers argued that three court fees charged by Ferguson — failure to appear, “warrant recall” and letter fees — had no beneficial value other than to generate revenue for the city. “The lawsuit is an example of the problems that went on in Ferguson, and I feel that the settlement is good because people are going through a lot nowadays,” said plaintiff Roelif Carter.
The lawsuit argued that the requirement to pay a fee to have warrants canceled was illegal, as was the fee to send a letter notifying defendants that they had a warrant. The failure to appear fee, the lawsuit argued, had been implemented illegally by the city. Ferguson claimed that residents who paid those fees had already admitted their guilt in court by “voluntarily” paying. Plaintiffs replied they had to pay first in order to contest them and that “if you using warrants police and jails to get them to pay, it’s not voluntarily,” said attorney Brendan Roediger. Under the proposed settlement, about 10,000 people who paid the court fees to Ferguson since 2009 may qualify to get a refund equal to 80 percent of what they paid. Ferguson courts and police have been targets of controversy since Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014.