Judge who invented Ferguson's debtor's prisons owes $170K in tax

Judge Ronald J Brockmeyer -- who filled Ferguson's coffers by fining its poorest residents and sent them to inhumane, overcrowded prisons when they couldn't pay a few hundred dollars -- stands accused of fixing fines for his cronies, and owes $170K in unpaid taxes.

The DoJ report on Ferguson has Brockmeyer boasting about the illegal use of fines as a cash cow for the city.

Brockmeyer, who has been Ferguson’s municipal court judge for 12 years, serves simultaneously as a prosecutor in two nearby cities and as a private attorney. Legal experts said his potentially conflicting interests illustrate a serious problem in the region’s judicial system. Brockmeyer, who reportedly earns $600 per shift as a prosecutor, said last year his dual role benefited defendants. “I see both sides of it,” he said. “I think it’s even better.”

While Brockmeyer owes the US government $172,646 in taxes, his court in Ferguson is at the centre of a class-action federal lawsuit that alleges Ferguson repeatedly “imprisoned a human being solely because the person could not afford to make a monetary payment”.

“Judge Brockmeyer not being incarcerated is a perfect illustration of how we should go about collecting debt from people who owe it,” said Thomas Harvey, the director of Arch City Defenders, one of the legal non-profits representing plaintiffs who were jailed in Ferguson.

Brockmeyer did not respond to multiple emails and telephone calls requesting comment. Federal tax liens filed against Brockmeyer by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) state that he has tens of thousands of dollars in overdue personal income taxes from joint filings with his wife, Amy. He also owes tens of thousands in employer taxes for his law firm and an annual tax paid by employers to fund benefits for the unemployed. Since November 2013, Brockmeyer has paid off another three overdue tax bills totalling $64,599.

Ferguson judge behind aggressive fines policy owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes [Jon Swaine/The Guardian]