Corruption

Pennsylvania Judges Get Partial Immunity in 'Kids for Cash' Case

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Last Friday a federal judge ruled that Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., the two former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, judges who have been indicted for taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from the builder and operator of two juvenile detention centers that they helped keep full, are immune from civil liability for judicial actions related to the scheme. Responding to a lawsuit filed by former juvenile offenders who accuse Conahan and Ciavarella of conspiring to deprive them of their constitutional rights, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo emphasized that the common law doctrine of judicial immunity, intended to preserve judicial independence, applies even in cases where judges are accused of egregious misconduct. Hence Ciavarella cannot be sued for railroading the defendants who appeared before him, routinely denying them the assistance of counsel, and shipping them off to the detention centers for minor offenses in exchange for payoffs. Caputo said his decision upholds "the rule of law in the face of popular opinion which would seek a finding directly contrary to the result the rule of law dictates."

Caputo ruled that both Conahan and Ciavarella can still be sued for actions they took outside the courtroom, such as arranging for PA Child Care to be Luzerne County's sole provider of juvenile detention services and pressuring probation officers to recommend jail. He also allowed the plaintiffs to pursue claims against Luzerne County and against a court psychologist accused of deliberately creating an evaluation backlog that forced defendants to spend more time in the detention centers. And he noted that Conahan and Ciavarella—whose plea deal, involving seven years of imprisonment, was rejected by a judge who felt it let them off too lightly—are still subject to criminal prosecution for the full range of their actions.

The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center unsuccessfully argued that Ciavarella's courtroom conduct was so far outside the norm that it should not be viewed as part of the judicial function. A story in The Legal Intelligencer suggests that both men acted more like gangsters than judges. Based on "hundreds of interviews with dozens of sources and extensive research of court records and prior news accounts," the paper reports that "the scam some in the media have labeled 'kids for cash' was just the tip of the iceberg and only the most blatant example of the corruption overseen by the two judges." Noting ties between Conahan, who prior to his guilty plea served as Luzerne County's president judge, and several local crime bosses, it paraphrases sources as saying "the two judges ran the courthouse like a mafia family."

Caputo's decision is here (PDF). More Reason coverage of the scandal here. The Juvenile Law Center has background here, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has a website devoted to "Luzerne County Corruption Prosecutions" here.

[via The Wall Street Journal's law blog]

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  1. Even immortals aren’t immune to a beheading.

  2. Government and it’s agents are immune to the law, so says the rule of law!

    Get back to work serfs!

  3. That is a neat little rule judges have saved for themselves, “we are above the law.”

    1. It also applies to prosecutors. Haven’t you been paying attention?

  4. What makes them immune from civil liability but not criminal liability?

  5. “Nice couple o’ Judges ya got there, Colonel. Be a pity if somethin’ were to ‘appen to ’em.”

  6. Where do I sign up for the tar & feather party? There’s gonna be one, right? Right?

  7. Oh, tar and feather isn’t nearly enough. This calls for the pitchforks, and probably a good rope and sturdy tree.

    1. Scalpels and forceps.

  8. None of which will happen of course because of the armed occupying force called “the police” who keep the streets safe for our masters.

  9. RULE OF LAW, BITCHES!

  10. It is deeply unfathomable to me how someone could love money so much that they would take bribes in order to railroad teenagers to jail. That’s beyond greed into outright sociopathy.

    Unfortunately, this is one of those “hard cases make bad law” instances. The exception for gross criminality like this quickly swallows the rule, and honest judges become afraid to rule fairly because of fear of personal liability. When it turns into Megacorp A v. Megacorp B, with billions on the line, a judge could be swamped in lawsuits for every ruling.

    Nevertheless, these men should spend the rest of their lives in prison. The civil liability they are still exposed to should be used to confiscate everything their families own but the clothes on their back, and the money should be given to the affected children. Ditto for the mafia folks, if the judges roll on them.

    1. honest judges become afraid to rule fairly because of fear of personal liability.

      After all, boys and girls, personal responsibility for you actions is something that only applies to us little people. It is to scary for a person with at least 2 college degrees and a groomed career to be held to be responsible for their own actions.

      1. Congratulations on not reading the rest of the paragraph.

        1. The second paragraph doesn’t matter. There should be NO immunity for prosecuters, judges or anyone else.

          They should be held to the same standard as other proffesional. They should excercise the same due care that is expected of an average person in their profession.

          Failure to do so should result in negligence, and open you up to liability.

  11. Pennsylvania Judges Get Partial Immunity in ‘Kids for Cash’ Case

    Yeah. Why am I not surprised?

  12. Pennsylvania Judges Get Partial Immunity in ‘Kids for Cash’ Case

    Yeah. Why am I not surprised?

  13. Damned software!

  14. When it turns into Megacorp A v. Megacorp B, with billions on the line, a judge could be swamped in lawsuits for every ruling.

    If the judge acted illegally, that would be appropriate.

  15. When the people have no recourse in the law against those who have kidnapped them and sold them into slavery, it’s their duty to overthrow their government. It’s in the declaration of independence, which is the beginning of American law.

    1. John is absolutely right. That is exactly what these judges did. They were modern-day slavers.

      They seized children under the color of law and turned them into chattels so others could exploit them.

      Why haven’t the child trafficking laws been brought to bear against these people? If I was kidnapping children and delivering them to Pakistani rug factories, how much time would I get for each case?

  16. Of course, judicial immunity doesn’t apply to the prison operators who benefitted from the judge’s crimes. The victims should still be able to strip those companies and their corporate officers of every red cent they hold.

  17. And he noted that Conahan and Ciavarella?whose plea deal, involving seven years of imprisonment, was rejected by a judge who felt it let them off too lightly?are still subject to criminal prosecution for the full range of their actions.

    They should be sentenced to serve at least as much time in prison as the total that those kids served in the detention centers, if not more.

  18. Funny how when a case actually, patently offends the principle of please think of the children…

  19. John is absolutely right. That is exactly what these judges did. They were modern-day slavers.
    […]

    Why haven’t the child trafficking laws been brought to bear against these people? If I was kidnapping children and delivering them to Pakistani rug factories, how much time would I get for each case?

    Well, Fluffy, it would appear that they are in the way of some fairly stiff criminal charges. That, at least, is too the good.

    As with my position on prosecutorial immunity, I will partially disagree with some other commentators here. There must be a high hurtle for would be claiments to jump before that can make these officers answer in civil court because such claims would otherwise form an effective denial of service attach on the “justice” system.

    Two points, however:

    1. An indictment on related criminal charges should be enough to bring them to court.
    2. Any statute of limitation for civil action should not toll until it becomes possible to bring a suit.

  20. “It’s a shame there isn’t a hell for the old bitch to go to” Christopher Hitchens on “Mother” Agnes? Gonxhe Bojaxhiu.

    Ditto for this asswipe.

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