Post-Ferguson Civil Rights Enforcement and Municipal Courts (807D)

The Ferguson Report, prepared by the United States Department of Justice, identified a number of procedural due process violations in the way the city’s municipal courts functioned. These procedural defects amplified the consequences of racial disparities in who was arrested and charged in the city. In the wake of the Ferguson Report, civil rights litigation has been brought challenging similar procedural due process violations in other municipal courts around the country. Litigation has concentrated on excessive bail, fines, fees, and other court costs, conflicts of interests in having judges whose budgets depend on collection exercise discretion in setting these charges and collecting them, and failure to comply with Bearden v. Georgia (1983). The Bearden decision prohibits imprisonment for failure to pay court charges without inquiring into a litigant’s indigence and determining that a litigant’s failure to pay is “willful”.

This two-quarter sequence policy lab focuses on (i) gathering empirical, doctrinal, historical, and other research on municipal court practices associated with the setting, charging, and collection of court fines, fees, and other costs, including demographic research on vulnerable populations affected by procedural errors, (ii) gathering evidence regarding best practices to reform court procedures, particularly regarding compliance with Bearden v. Georgia, (iii) drafting initiatives for recommendation to the client, and (iv) closely editing and refining the proposals for distribution. Applicants should have interest and/or expertise in criminal or civil justice reform, civil rights litigation and enforcement, procedure, and judicial ethics.

Course Catalog