Missouri Supreme Court Appoints New Judge to Oversee Ferguson

Following the resignation of controversial judge Ronald Brockmeyer, Roy Richter steps in with "the authority to overhaul court policies to ensure defendants' rights"

The Missouri Supreme Court has appointed a new judge to oversee Ferguson, where civil unrest broke out last year following the shooting death of an unarmed teen. Credit: Ruth Fremson/NYTimes/Redux

UPDATE: Ferguson City Manager John Shaw, who oversaw city operations during the period the Justice Department condemned in its report, has resigned. The New York Times reports he was the most powerful official and that he was allegedly one of the people most responsible for the offensive ways the police and courts were conducted.

Days after the Department of Justice concluded that the Ferguson police department and judicial system "reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias," the Missouri Supreme Court has begun making changes in the city by appointing a new judge to step in.

The decision follows the resignation of municipal court judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer, who allegedly used the court like a money-making venture for the city by jailing defendants who were unable to pay court fees and fines. The state supreme court subsequently appointed court of appeals judge Roy L. Richter with "the authority to overhaul court policies to ensure defendants' rights" in order to "restore the integrity of the system," The Associated Press reports.

"Judge Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to this court's practices, and he is able and willing to implement needed reforms," Chief Justice Mary Russell wrote in a statement. "Extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson, but the Court also is examining reforms that are needed on a statewide basis."

Brockmeyer resigned Monday after the Department of Justice's scathing report on the situation in Ferguson found that the judge helped create and fund an environment that was "systematically biased against African-Americans," as President Barack Obama said in a speech condemning Ferguson law enforcement last week. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told the AP that the city will begin finding a permanent successor for Brockmeyer immediately.

The government conducted its investigation after a grand jury decided not to indict policeman Darren Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown; the Justice Department also published a recent report clearing Wilson of alleged civil rights violations and ruling he had acted in self-defense.

Brockmeyer is alleged to have issued arrest warrants for many lower-class Ferguson residents for not being able to pay their minor offense or city code violations fines, a judicial approach that has since resulted in a class-action federal lawsuit against Ferguson. The "aggressive" court fines – "many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful," according to the Justice Department – were used to generate revenue for the city; the court had issued over $3.1 million in fines last year, or nearly a quarter of Ferguson's 2015 fiscal budget. 

Brockmeyer himself owed $172,000 in unpaid taxes to the U.S. government, and he routinely used his position on the bench to get himself and colleagues out of tickets, The Guardian writes. Court clerk Mary Ann Twitty was also accused of helping to "fix" tickets; she was fired last week.