October 23, 2014

Schweich to test for fat budgets and speeders (AUDIO)

Don’t say state auditor Tom Schweich is going to audit ten Missouri speed traps.   He’s going to make sure ten municipal courts are follow a state law that limits the use of speeding tickets to pay city bills.

The notorious Lake Ozark-area speed trap of Mack’s Creek so incensed state lawmakers that they passed a law almost twenty years ago limiting the percent of a community’s budget that could be financed with traffic tickets. The law has been tightened since then and an even lower limit has been set.

Schweich is sending staff members to check the records of ten municipal courts to see if they’re ignoring the law.   He says one person who contacted him told of being stopped in a town where the speed limit sign was obscured suggested the sign be put in a more visible position. The complaining motorist told Schweich the officer responded, “If we did that, I’d be out of a job.”

The list is based on hotline complaints and studies that indicate a per-capita ticket rate greater that a community’s population might warrant. Most of the communities are small ones where Schweich says the pressure might be greatest to raise money to finance basic community service. The courts to be audited are: Mosby, Leadington, Linn Creek, Foristell, Winfield, Foley, Ferguson, St. Ann, Bella Vista, and Pine Lawn.

If more than thirty percent of a city’s budget comes from traffic violations, the city must refund the overage to the state. If it doesn’t, the state can end the municipal court’s authority to handle those tickets.  Schweich calls that a strong incentive to follow the law.

AUDIO: (Schweich interview 8:46

Missouri Legislature asked to protect courageous children (AUDIO)

The legislature has been asked to protect courageous children who describe how they’ve been abused. Missouri Child Advocacy Centers do forensic interviews with those children who are strong enough to describe what has happened to them.  The interviews are used by the state Children’s Division and law enforcement in their investigations.

But Deputy Director Emily vanSchenkhof of Missouri Kids First says centers are increasingly facing subpoenas for those recordings from lawyers who want to use them in custody cases. She says one lawyer recently wanted to play the child’s interview in a courtroom full of people. “Seeing a 7-year-old sit in a chair and talk about sex acts  that most adults wouldn’t be comfortable doing is life changing to me. To hear and to watch children’s little bodies as they disclose things that should never have been done to them has changed my life forever,” she says.

VanShenkhoff says it takes tremendous courage for a child to describe abuse. She says the state  has no way now to protect children from having the interviews used in ways that will come back to hurt them.  She says the organization doesn’t want to keep people who need to make good decisions from seeing the recordings.  But she tells a legislative committee that the confidentiality of those children must be protected but Missouri has nothing that will do that.

She’s afraid those recordings could someday show up on Youtube unless the legislature limits access to them.

AUDIO: vanSchenkhoff testimony (2:36)



Man sentenced to death asks MO Supreme Court for new trial

The arguments of a condemned Missouri inmate that he should get a new trial have been presented to the state Supreme Court.

Jesse Driskill is held at the Potosi Correctional Center.

Jesse Driskill is held at the Potosi Correctional Center.

The key argument of Jesse Driskill is that his panic attacks prevented him from participating in his own defense and from being present while a jury decided his fate.

His attorney, Rosemary Percival, says Driskill was denied medication, and says the trial court should have ordered a new competency evaluation instead of relying on previous ones.

“It was error for the court to simply say, after reading the written opinions I believe this one instead of that one because this one’s more recent,” Percival told the Supreme Court.

Assistant Attorney General Shaun Mackelprang says the trial court worked around Driskill’s panic attacks by granting recesses when he had one, and allowing him to view proceedings by live video while talking to his attorney by text or phone.

“There would be moments – temporary moments … where he wouldn’t be able to consult with his attorneys, but that was something that I think the trial court reasonably concluded could be managed,” argued Mackelprang.

Driskill was sentenced to death last year for the murders in 2010 of Johnnie Wilson and his wife Connie in their rural Laclede County home. He also says the court at his trial violated his constitutional rights by not letting the jury see all evidence while considering his sentence.

The court could issue a ruling at any time.

AG: will not appeal ruling that Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages

Missouri’s Attorney General has said he will not appeal a circuit court ruling that the state must recognize same-sex marriages that have been legally performed outside of Missouri.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Photo courtesy of ago.mo.gov

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Photo courtesy of ago.mo.gov

See the earlier story on last week’s ruling by a Kansas City judge

Koster released a statement this afternoon saying Missouri must honor contracts entered into in other states, as the court ruled.

He also cited the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline to hear appeals filed by several other states seeking to uphold their own bans on same-sex marriage. That decision clears the way for gay marriage to be legal in as many as 30 states.

Koster says that would put Missouri at a disadvantage.

“At a time when Missouri is competing to attract the nation’s premier businesses and most talented employees,” writes Koster, “we should not demand that certain individuals surrender their marriage licenses in order to live and work among us.”

Koster, who has previously said he would vote to repeal Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, adds in his statement, “Missouri’s future will be one of inclusion, not exclusion.”

Koster declined Missourinet’s request for an interview about the decision.

ACLU legal director Tony Rothert, who argued the case of ten same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit seeking to have their marriages in other states recognized in Missouri, released a statement of his own.

“As the Attorney General has recognized, our constitution obligates Missouri to recognize marriages from other states, as our state has historically done. Now more than half of the states will not exclude gay men and lesbians from marriage. We look forward to the day that Missouri will join the majority soon. In the meantime, we are thrilled that Missouri will no longer single out gay men and lesbians for discrimination by refusing to recognize their marriages.”

Judge rules Missouri must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

A Kansas City judge has ruled that Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages from other states in the same way the state recognizes other out-of-state marriages. His ruling says that sections of Missouri statute and the constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2004 that would prevent such recognition are “invalid.”

10 same-sex couples married in states in which that is legal sued the state of Missouri and Kansas City to have their marriages recognized as valid.

More than 70 percent of Missouri voters who cast ballots in August, 2004, favored changing the state Constitution to say, “To be valid and recognized in this state a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.” Missouri statutes regarding the issuance of marriage licenses and the state retirement system have been changed to include similar language since 1996.

Judge J. Dale Youngs found that Missouri recognizes marriages that are performed in other states in all cases except for same-sex couples. That includes recognizing the out-of-state marriages of first cousins, even though first cousins are not allowed to marry in Missouri.

“Thus, Missouri has made the choice to regulate and in some cases, prohibit outright, the ability of certain couples to get married here,” writes Youngs. “By singling out plaintiffs’ marriages for different treatment, the State defendants are singling out plaintiffs themselves and are doing so because of a characteristic that distinguishes them from other people: their sexual orientation.”

As to the state’s argument that having a definition of marriage that is recognized statewide to the benefit of local authorities who issue marriage licenses, Youngs says he agrees.

He writes that while that, “may be a legitimate governmental interest, there is no logical relationship between that interest and laws that discriminate against gay men and lesbians who have been married in jurisdictions in which same-sex marriages are legal.”

Youngs adds, “There is no evidence before the Court that treating same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions differently assists or otherwise has any impact on the ability of ‘local authorities’ to do their jobs ‘consistently, uniformly, or predictably.'”

The American Civil Liberties Union, whose attorneys argued the case of those 10 couples, praised the decision.

“Missouri has finally recognized our couples’ marriages as being no different from any other marriage,” said ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert, who argued the case 8 days ago.

ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman called the decision, “a win for the whole state because a discriminatory law has been struck down.”

The decision is expected to be the subject of an appeal, as Judge Youngs noted after hearing arguments last week.

See our story from last week:  Judge will rule quickly on challenge to Missouri same-sex marriage ban