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Federal Court Approves Settlements Benefiting Citizens Harmed by Practices of St. Louis Area Municipalities

March 19, 2024

A federal district court recently approved the last of three class action settlements that will provide compensation and improve the quality of life for thousands of St. Louis citizens harmed by the unlawful practices of the St. Louis area police, jails, and courts.

The outcome is the culmination of an eight-year partnership between Arnold & Porter and the St. Louis-based non-profit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders. The partnership aimed to challenge the practices of St. Louis area municipalities that used municipal courts and jails to coerce poor, mostly minority citizens, to make payments under threat of imprisonment for alleged traffic infractions and other minor municipal ordinance violations.

Arnold & Porter and ArchCity Defenders filed three class action lawsuits in federal district court seeking injunctive relief to put an end to these unlawful practices, as well as seeking compensation for the thousands of people who were harmed by the practices. The lawsuits alleged that the municipalities used their police departments and municipal courts as a revenue-generating mechanism that targeted the most vulnerable of their citizens, starting with the over-policing of low-income communities of color, followed by the imposition of arbitrary fines, fees, and interest, and ending with imprisonment for those people who could not afford to pay. The lawsuits made an impact almost immediately. Shortly after filing, the municipalities ceased their unconstitutional practices of jailing people who could not afford to pay fines and fees from traffic tickets and other municipal ordinance violations.

The Arnold & Porter pro bono team included partners Zachary Fayne and David Bergman, and associates Gelsey Beaubrun and Will Omorogieva.