Corruption

PA Supreme Court Voids Convictions of Railroaded Juvenile Defendants

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will overturn the convictions of up to 1,200 defendants sentenced by Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark Ciavarella to a local detention center from which he was receiving kickbacks. An investigation commissioned by the court found "routine deprivation of children's constitutional rights to appear before an impartial tribunal and have an opportunity to be heard." The investigation concluded that "a very substantial number of juveniles who appeared without counsel before Judge Ciavarella for delinquency related proceedings did not knowingly and intelligently waive their right to counsel."

The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, citing Ciavarella's disregard for defendants' rights, asked the Supreme Court to intervene nearly a year ago, but the court said no. It did not act until after federal prosecutors charged Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Luzerne County's former chief judge, with taking $2.6 million from PA Child Care, the company that ran the detention center. Conahan arranged the county's contract with PA Child Care, while Ciavarella kept the juvenile jail full. Under a plea agreement, each will serve about seven years in federal prison. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the former co-owner of PA Child Care, Robert Powell, claims Ciavarella "shook him down for payments." So far Powell has not been charged.

I noted Ciavarella and Conahan's guilty pleas last month. Here are a few excerpts from my brief article about the scandal in the May issue of Reason (which is not online yet):

In 2004, responding to concerns about the unusually high rate and cost of juvenile incarceration in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. told the Wilkes-Barre Time Leader, "I'm not in the business to determine whether placement rates are up or down. I'm in the business of trying to help these kids."…

Ciavarella routinely prevented defendants from being represented by counsel and locked up minor offenders even when the juvenile probation officer recommended otherwise. The judge jailed a 16-year-old girl for a week and then sent her to a boot camp for "an indefinite period" because of a prank note in school that gave rise to a charge of making "terroristic threats." A 17-year-old boy charged with possessing drug paraphernalia served a total of five months in PA Child Care's Pittston Township detention facility, plus another four months in boot camp…

Last summer Powell, amid rumors of a federal investigation, announced that he was selling his interest in the detention facilities to Zappala [his partner]. "I am very proud," he said, "of the company and the hundreds of kids' lives I have helped change for the positive."

The Juvenile Law Center has the latest on the case, including a copy of the Supreme Court's order, here.

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  1. It did not act until after federal prosecutors charged Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Luzerne County’s former chief judge, with taking $2.6 million from PA Child Care, the company that ran the detention center. Conahan arranged the county’s contract with PA Child Care, while Ciavarella kept the juvenile jail full. Under a plea agreement, each will serve about seven years in federal prison. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the former co-owner of PA Child Care, Robert Powell, claims Ciavarella “shook him down for payments.” So far Powell has not been charged.

    Why not? Shit like this is why people hate corporations. If it was a person that bribed a judge, they would get charged in a second.

  2. This crooked judge shouldn’t be sent to a federal tennis prison. No . . .

  3. Corporations are why we have bad government. Obama will fix this.

    1. bahahhhahhhha obama…. what a joke. Obama doesnt have enough “hope” or “change” to fix real problems. His magic wand isn’t big enough to wish away all the problems with government. Keep dreaming, but Obama is not our savior.

  4. TofuSushi,

    I’m not saying it’s “corporations” fault. It’s the disparate treatment. If I gave the judge a big briefcase full of cash to rule in my favor on a case that netted me an assload of money, I’d be perp walking right now. Why isn’t Powell charged? How was he shaken down? “If you don’t pay me, I let innocent juveniles roam free!”

    Appropriate punishment for all involved would be having each of them being trapped on an island with packs of feral teenagers.

  5. “Ciavarella. Ah, I knew it. That’s all you need, one thieving wop on the team.”

  6. Perhaps it’s time to revisit this idea that juveniles aren’t entitled to jury trials.

    In fact, it may be time to revisit the idea that misdemeanors don’t warrant jury trials as well.

  7. Appropriate punishment for all involved would be having each of them being trapped on an island with packs of feral teenagers.

    Awesome.

  8. BP,

    If you’ve never read the BR novel, I highly recommend it. It’s Japan’s 1984.

  9. The corrupt judges should be imprisoned for twice the cumulative total of the sentences of incarceration that they’ve handed out. Yes, I know this means that they’ll be in prison for the rest of their worthless lives. Let the fuckers rot.

    -jcr

  10. jcr
    That would be just. Of course it ain’t gonna happen. It helps if you at it this way. Those criminals in power are rarely punised at all. We don’t jail half of the criminal judges in the country. It’s a win.

  11. Those fuckers should be in jail. Their families should be in jail. Everybody who was within reach, and failed to kick them in the nuts, should be in jail.

  12. SF – if it’s as good (or better) than the film, I’m sure it’s worth checking out. Amazon has a few used copies under $10.

    Also, what jcr & P Brooks said. The judges in this case are vermin.

  13. BP,

    It’s actually better than the film. The book is an alt-history where the US didn’t nuke or invade Japan, but fought to a stalemate and divided the Pacific between them. Japan goes on to conquer much of China and SE Asia and re-invents itself as communist “Democratic Republic.” The novel starts 40 or so years after hegemony is achieved.

    The Battle Royales have been going on since the late 1950s.

    By the way, don’t bother with BR2. It sucks beyond the telling of it.

  14. jcr-

    This time, I agree with your sentencing recommendation. Maybe I can convert you on Madoff.

  15. One of the co-owners of PA Child Care is the son of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice. Does that answer your question, Mo?

  16. It seems to me that the owner of PA Child Care conspired with the two judges to deprive all those kids of their civil rights. Isn’t conspiracy to commit a crime a criminal act?

  17. What gives? Did Balko cede his Friday dose of justice system outrage to Sullum?

  18. It seems that there are many juvenile teens that needs help but it seems there are no equal trial happened.

  19. It seems that there are many juvenile teens that needs help but it seems there are no equal trial happened.

    Boot Camps

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