Owensville holds final Municipal Court session; sends 70 cases to county

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Owensville Municipal Court officers dismissed 147 cases June 26 on the final session for the city while transferring 70 for adjudication by the county’s Associate Circuit Court.

“Nolle Pros” was a term heard often during the hour and 15 minutes court was in session for the final time. The local court is now disbanded after elected officials determined they no longer had the trained staffing nor the staffing resources to comply with upper court rulings on how city courts should be operated.

A. David Arand filled in for David Baylard as the city’s judge  and signed off on Prosecutor Scott Fulford’s recommendations  to dismiss the 147 cases which were considered minor.

Cases including yard ordinance nuisance violations for tall grass and weeds, or having unlicensed vehicles parked on their property, along with minor traffic violations were mostly dismissed Thursday.

“Are you enjoying the fire safe,” Fulford asked Arand when he stepped into the City Hall meeting room where Arand was presiding. “Unless they did something to aggravate me, they got their cases dismissed.”

“A moving sale,” Arand responded. Arand also handles judging duties in Union and St. Clair. Fulford presides over New Haven’s court.

“This was their lucky day,” said Peggy Farrell, deputy clerk for the city. “They got lucky this is our last day of court.”

“Fire sale,” said Arand.

“Freedom day,” responded Farrell. “This was freedom day for everyone. They all got nolle’d.”

“Nolle prosequi” (nol’e pros’e-kwi) — essentially translating to no further prosecution planned — was the term for the evening.

Farrell has been helping run the city’s court by committee along with fellow employees Bobbi Limberg, city clerk, and Mary Stranghoener, a former police secretary who assisted with court records. 

A widely accepted interpretation of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling is forcing municipalities to eliminate their courts especially if staff member shared duties between city department such as court clerking and accepting utility payments — or taking phone calls for other departments. After the city’s longtime court clerk Rhonda Newman died from a cancer illness in late 2018, city staffers took over her duties. City officials voted earlier this year to start the 6-month process to move its court cases to the circuit level. The city’s police lieutenant, Scott Griffith, previously assisted Fulford.

Fulford will now review cases electronically which will be filed by the city’s police clerk who will serve as an assistant to the prosecuting attorney. If he signs off on them, they will go to the circuit level. A job description for that assistant’s position is still being developed.

Those with more serious charges such as stealing or shoplifting, assaults, or major moving violations like driving which intoxicated, will have their cases forwarded to the circuit level. The city’s first docket in Associate Circuit Court in Hermann is scheduled to be heard beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Fulford said he was recommending the dismissal of cases which  would be a problem transferring them to the county.

The final docket had 222 cases listed. Forty-one people showed up that night. Everyone with a bond being held was notified. 

Those with payments owed on fines will have their cases forwarded to the county court.

City staff notified everyone with a bond being held by the city that they would be entitled to a bond forfeiture hearing at the final court session. Five people had their bonds applied to pending fines. Court staff also refunded several bonds being held on cases which were dismissed.

In one case, a man received a bond refund. He was able to cash his refunded bond check that evening to pay off his wife’s $196 fine to clear her case from the docket.

In one case Arand handled, a letter was submitted from a man currently serving four years in state prison.

In the letter, he admitted his guilt to the city charge.

“That’s an acceptable plea of guilt,” Arand said as he told Farrell to attach the letter to his file.

The man was sentenced to one jail in jail and given credit for time served. He fined the man $1.50 plus costs.

“It avoids carrying over a case for four years,” Arand told police attending the court session.

“That’s the word of the night…nolle,” said Farrell.

There will be no further prosecution in Owensville. The court is now disbanded.