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Municipal Court Chief Judge To Be Part of State Work Group

City of Springfield

Springfield Municipal Court Chief Judge Todd Thornhill has been appointed to the Supreme Court Municipal Division Work Group, which has been tasked with reviewing relevant matters to the state’s municipal divisions and recommending improvements.

“Our charge is very broad to address rules, statutes and ethical rules dealing with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers…in regard to the state municipal court system,” Thornhill said.

According to a city press release, Thornhill is the only municipal judge serving in the work group and was appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell.

Municipal courts handle city ordinance violations, such as traffic offenses, minor drug charges or charges of driving while intoxicated, but municipal courts are also able to perform weddings.

Specifically, Thornhill said the group is to address a chapter in the Missouri Revised Statutes and a Supreme Court rule both dealing with state municipal courts. In addition, the group will also address the Code of Judicial Conduct, the recently passed Senate Bill 5 and the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson.

SB5, which was passed this session and has been delivered to the governor, modifies the distribution of traffic fines and also the collection by fees by municipal courts.

Another new provision to be examined, Thornhill said, is in regards to detaining defendants who owe fines.

“We can’t coerce payment by detaining them,” Thornhill said. “That will be a new procedure for everybody.”

Thornhill said the group’s creation is likely due to the recent events in Ferguson, which brought attention to the practices of municipal courts—specifically in North St. Louis County—to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We are giving our working group members full rein to study our state’s municipal court divisions from all angles,” Justice Russell said in a press release from earlier this month.

She continued, “We expect them to respond with specific solutions for improving our municipal court divisions, not only in St. Louis County but throughout the state. Our hope is that, in time, our municipal court divisions might become a model for the nation.”

Thornhill, who has been serving in municipal courts for 22 years, said he does not expect his appointment to the work group to take away from his duties in Springfield.

“It will be added duties,” Judge Thornhill said. “But certainly I won’t let it impact the day to day operations of the municipal court here in Springfield.”

No date has been determined for the work group’s first meeting, Thornhill said.

The Supreme Court expects the group to file its interim report by September 1 and its final report by December 1.