Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

DOJ ends its oversight of St. Louis County Family Court

Jessica Shumaker//January 8, 2020

DOJ ends its oversight of St. Louis County Family Court

Jessica Shumaker//January 8, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice has ended its oversight of the St. Louis County Family Court after finding the court to be in full compliance with an agreement to reform its practices.

In a Dec. 16 letter, released by the St. Louis County Circuit Court on Dec. 26, Steven H. Rosenbaum of the DOJ notified Family Court Administrative Judge Margaret T. Donnelly that the department has decided the agreement should be terminated and its investigation closed.

“We recognize the hard work that the Family Court has put into protecting the due-process and equal-protection rights of youth in juvenile justice proceedings through changed policies and practices . . . We congratulate the Family Court for fully implementing the reforms in the agreement,” said Rosenbaum, chief of the special litigation section of the DOJ Civil Rights Division.

The Civil Rights Division began probing the court’s procedures and outcomes in late 2013. In a report issued in July 2015, investigators faulted the court for failing to ensure due process for juvenile defendants.

The investigators found that the court wasn’t providing juveniles with adequate representation, probable-cause determinations or ways to challenge their certification to adult court.

The investigators also faulted the juvenile court for violating the children’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

While it disputed the findings, the court signed a memorandum with the DOJ in December 2016, agreeing to address the DOJ’s concerns while under the supervision of external monitors.

The court agreed to take the necessary steps to provide indigent juveniles with full access to legal representation, including hiring a second public defender. It also pledged to enhance staff training, and it hired data analysts to track and evaluate programs and policies.

In an effort to keep juveniles from entering the court system, the family court also has collaborated with schools, law enforcement, faith-based groups and advocacy organizations to provide alternative programs.

In a statement, Donnelly said the court’s judges and staff “are dedicated to ensuring that juveniles’ constitutional rights and best interests are protected at every step of the legal process.”

“We also are committed to maintaining community safety, repairing harm done to victims and focusing on accountability for juveniles,” she said. “Going forward, we will continue the partnerships we have built to ensure that court-involved youth obtain the services they need to develop into responsible adults.”

RELATED: St. Louis County Juvenile Court uses data to rebound and rebrand

Latest Opinion Digests

See all digests

Top stories

See more news