City of Platte City doing away with municipal court

The City of Platte City will transfer municipal court functions to the Platte County Circuit Court, a process that could take up to six months to complete.

On Tuesday, June 27, the Platte City Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 to approve the proposed shift, which expects to save the city more than $50,000 per year. The bill went into effect on Saturday, July 1, and the city will have six months to work with the county on the transfer.

Currently, the City of Platte City hosts municipal court one night a month at the Platte City Civic Center — normally on the second Tuesday.

“There is a six-month window in which time the transfer must occur,” Platte City city administrator DJ Gehrt said. “It can occur any time over that period, and our intention, obviously, would be to work with both courts to make sure that operates as smoothly as possible. There’s no intention to do it immediately and it just goes away.

“To do it in a professional way, it takes as long as it takes.”

In the state court organization, municipal courts are a component of the state court system and operate under the direct jurisdiction of the presiding judge of the respective circuit courts. The Platte City Municipal Court operates under the jurisdiction of the presiding judge of the 6th Circuit Court.

The governing body of the city retains authority over the municipal code and has specific authority to select the judicial venue which will hear cases involving violations of that code. The venues available to the governing body are to have code violations heard in a municipal court structure or to assign these cases to the circuit court.

Platte City, along with a majority of other Missouri municipal governments, elected to organize and operate a separate municipal court. While a large majority of fourth class cities chose to appoint a municipal judge to a fixed term, Platte City selected the option of an elected rather than appointed municipal court judge. 

Judge Greg Dorsey was first elected as Platte City Municipal Court Judge in 1994 and was re­elected every two years until his death earlier this year.

However, a series of state legislative actions in Missouri and Supreme Court ruling in recent years have led to drastic changes in municipal court operations. The City of Platte City anticipates significant changes in the municipal court fiscal outlook as legislation begins to be fully implemented.

The city anticipates an increase in costs for operating municipal court, largely due to a mandate of hiring a civilian bailiff, required online docket software, reporting requirements and added operating requirements. According to documentation provided to aldermen, the operating deficit for 2017-18 would be more than $30,000.

In recent years, Platte City’s municipal court operated at a slight surplus.

The three-year municipal court revenue average (fines plus court costs) is $104,366. The three year court expenditure average is 98,640.

Little would change in the basic operation of the court, although cases would now be heard at the Platte County Courthouse in front of a circuit court judge. Adoption and enforcement of city code would remain with the City of Platte City, and the board of aldermen retains full authority on amending city code.

According to city staff, there would be no change in police activities, policies or procedures, and the mayor and board of aldermen would continue to have full oversight and authority over the Platte City Police Department.

All fees and fines would continue to be collected and forwarded under the existing distribution formula. Court costs would be distributed to the circuit court rather than the municipal court, while fines and penalties would continue to be distributed to the City of Platte City. Fees for the Victim’s Fund, the Peace Officer Training Fund and the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund would continue to be collected and disbursed in the current manner. 

Court costs for municipal cases would increase by $15 per case and the court technology charge would increase by $7 per case to align with current circuit court costs. 

Benefits include improved court security at the county facilities, while the city will no longer have to maintain courtroom space. In addition, the county employs multiple administrative and clerical staff to reduce scheduling conflicts for vacation, illness, training, etc.

Platte City municipal cases would be heard once a month during normal weekday business hours, and the city’s prosecutor would remain in place.

The Platte City Board of Aldermen’s public safety subcommittee considered the proposal earlier in June at a public hearing. Despite one citizen speaking out against the proposed change, members were in favor of the transfer, and the full board went with the recommendation last week.

The City of Platte City would still incur about $30,000 in court expenses each year. Those would be paid for out of the collected fines and penalties.