A Ferguson judge singled out by the Justice Department for the aggressive fines he has handed out reportedly owes the Internal Revenue Service about $170,000.
Judge Ronald Brockmeyer has a backlog of taxes due to the US government going back to 2007, according to the Guardian. The judge’s fining policies were singled out by the DOJ investigation into the Ferguson Police Department and city court system, and were found to be aggressive and used to unfairly target African Americans.
The federal tax liens filed against Judge Brockmeyer are for tens of thousands of dollars in overdue personal income taxes from multiple joint filings with his wife, Amy, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian. He also owes tens of thousands in employer taxes for his law firm and an annual employer-paid tax meant to fund unemployment benefits. Since November 2013, Brockmeyer has paid off another three overdue tax bills totaling $64,599.
The judge is also accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while punishing residents for similar offenses. The DOJ report said Brockmeyer agreed to “take care” of a speeding ticket for a senior Ferguson police officer in August 2014. He also had a red light camera ticket he received himself from the nearby city of Hazelwood dismissed in October 2013.
“Even as Ferguson city officials maintain the harmful stereotype that black individuals lack personal responsibility – and continue to cite this lack of personal responsibility as the cause of the disparate impact of Ferguson’s practices – white city officials condone a striking lack of personal responsibility among themselves and their friends,” the Justice Department investigators said.
Additionally, investigators found the judge responsible for creating a new range of court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful.” His court is also at the center of a class-action federal lawsuit files by 15 citizens against Ferguson and Jennings, and was charged with creating a modern day debtors prison.
“If you’re poor and black and standing in front of court saying, ‘I can’t afford this,’ I think the court is less likely to listen to you,” Tom Harvey, the director of Arch City Defenders and a lawyer who represents one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, said to NBC News.
“Judge Brockmeyer not being incarcerated is a perfect illustration of how we should go about collecting debt from people who owe it,” he said.
Another plaintiff, Roelif Carter, a 62-year-old disabled military veteran, alleges he was arrested and jailed for three days in Ferguson in 2010 after trying to pay the $100 monthly installment for his outstanding traffic fines on the second day of the month rather than the first, when it was due. While living in “constant fear,” he was arrested and jailed three more times in the following years when he was unable to pay the monthly charge, the lawsuit alleges.
The American Civil Liberties Union has leveled the same accusation against other state and local courts that have turned to aggressive fee collections as to way to fund operations without burdening taxpayers. The organization said such methods violate the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which promises due process and equal protection.
Brockmeyer has served as municipal judge for 12 years, as well as a prosecutor in two nearby cities and as a private attorney. Legal experts say there is a conflict of interest, but Brockmeyer maintains of his multiple roles, “I see both sides of it. I think it’s even better.”