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St. Louis County Family Court nearly compliant with DOJ

August 29, 2018

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis County Family Court is nearly in full compliance with Justice Department recommendations to address concerns raised five years ago about the court’s treatment of juveniles, particularly blacks, court officials said Wednesday.

The court released the findings of a new Justice Department audit showing that the court is in full compliance with the recommendations in all but one of 45 categories. The only category where it isn’t is in staff training, where it is in partial compliance.

“Our commitment to safeguarding the constitutional rights and best interests of all juveniles in St. Louis County is unwavering,” family court administrator Ben Burkemper said in a news release.

The audit was compiled by retired Pennsylvania judge Arthur Grim, who met in June with judges, court staff, juvenile officers, court-appointed lawyers and the parents of juveniles.

The investigation of the family court began in 2013 and was unrelated to the unrest in the St. Louis County city of Ferguson that followed the Aug. 9, 2014, fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer.

The officer wasn’t charged, but the Justice Department issued a scathing report that cited racial bias and racial profiling in Ferguson’s policing and in a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks.

The Justice Department’s family court investigation also cited racial inequities in the treatment of defendants and concerns that constitutional rights were too often violated. An agreement reached in 2016 required the family court to double the number of defense attorneys available to represent indigent youth and to ensure that defense lawyers were appointed in a timely manner and properly trained.

The deal also barred police interrogations at the juvenile detention center unless an attorney for the youth is present, and stressed that juveniles understand their rights before waiving them. The family court also was required to adopt standardized hearings to ensure that juveniles’ pleas to delinquency charges are voluntary.

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