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St. Louis County Family Court Under Federal Investigation

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Updated at 1:15 p.m. with further comment from the ACLU.

Updated at 12:05 p.m. with quotes from court administrator Paul Fox.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the St. Louis County family court is treating all of the children who appear in front of its judges equally.

The department's Civil Rights Division is specifically looking at whether the court is providing due process to children involved in delinquency proceedings, and if all children are treated equally regardless of race.

"Protecting the constitutional rights of all children appearing in court is critical to achieving our goals of improving juvenile courts, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system and maintaining public safety," acting assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said in a statement.

The department did not say what prompted the investigation, and court administrator Paul Fox did not know either.

"With the court, you always get complaints from time to time," he said. "Half the people who come here are unhappy because they lose, and even the ones that win are usually unhappy because they didn't win enough. So we get complaints from time to time, but nothing specific on this."

Tony Rothert, the legal directer for the  American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization had heard anecdotally of problems within the county's juvenile justice system, but could not determine if the complaints had merit because juvenile records are sealed.

"Therefore, we welcome a DOJ investigation to cut through the secrecy and get to the root of any problems," he said in a statement.

Fox says the court will cooperate fully in the investigation

"We believe we follow the law, state and federal, and are acting in the best interest of the juvenile," he said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.