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Protesters try to stop Pine Lawn Municipal Court

Protesters Charles Brooks, 41, (left) and another protester yell at police officers at the Pine Lawn City Hall on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Protesters were trying to block the entrance to the Municipal Court so that residents would not be able to pay traffic fines. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

PINE LAWN • The municipal court in Pine Lawn has made little progress toward improving widespread mismanagement exposed in a state audit six months ago, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway said in a follow-up report issued Monday.

The audit found that Pine Lawn had generated 46 percent of its general operating revenue from traffic violations, and owed $400,000 to the state Department of Revenue, an amount equal to more than 15 percent of the city’s general operating revenue in 2015.

That money would be distributed to public schools in St. Louis County, under state law.

The auditor’s office gave the court in the north St. Louis County city a rating of “poor,” the lowest possible rating.

Six months later, the money has not been paid back, and city officials do not appear to have plans to do so, Galloway said.

“It is unclear whether the court’s inaction is due to a lack of concern or a lack of ability, but it is not acceptable for any public body to operate with so little accountability,” Galloway said in a news release. “There is an obvious disconnect between the standards people expect from a court and the activity we have identified in Pine Lawn municipal court.”

Mayor Terry Epps did not respond to a message left at City Hall, where he was in a meeting.

Under state law, if municipal court fails to send the excess court revenue to the Department of Revenue, it could trigger a series of actions that could end in a takeover of its pending cases by the circuit court.

It was not immediately clear if the Department of Revenue had begun to take action to collect the Pine Lawn overage.

Galloway said in June that she hoped Pine Lawn would make improvements and “rebuild that trust” in the city government. But her follow-up found that of 10 recommendations she made in June, only one had been implemented.

The follow-up found that the Pine Lawn court had made little progress transferring court cases into a new electronic case management system, was neglecting basic accounting functions, and was not performing accurate bank account reconciliations, following up on outstanding checks, or identifying bond liabilities.

The previous report described how court personnel lacked accurate and complete files, with some cases missing necessary basic records, including tickets, dockets or warrants. This was one area where the court improved, Galloway said.

Jeremy Kohler is an investigative reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.