PA Court Vacates Hundreds of Juvie Convictions

Remember the Pennsylvania judges that took $2.6 millions in payoffs from private detention centers for sending kids their way?

Today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated hundreds of the convictions, and it's not done yet.

The state Supreme Court ruled that former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.

''Today's order is not intended to be a quick fix,'' Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in a statement. ''It's going to take some time, but the Supreme Court is committed to righting whatever wrong was perpetrated on Luzerne's juveniles and their families.''

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    It's fantastic that they are giving these kids (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by of1000Kings on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 06:22:50 PM EST
    their lives back after a probably well-respected-human being (he is a Judge after all, and had money, which in our society means people think you are somebody special) turned out to be a criminal...

    the best way to really right the wrong though is to rethink privatization...get rid of it...

    but of course, just because something is PROVEN not to work (which privatization has been, considering the cost of imprisoning a person is more expensive through a private facility) doesn't mean it's going to change in the Greatest Country in the World (qualifier needed)...

    outrage (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by txpublicdefender on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 07:08:35 PM EST
    As a lawyer who worked as a juvenile public defender, I don't think I can even express how much this case has made my blood boil since I first read about it.  Substantial research has been done to show that the chance that a youth will go on to commit new crimes, have drug and alcohol problems, fail to graduate high school, fail to be successfully employed, and all sorts of other negative life outcomes, increases substantially if he or she has spent even 1 day in a detention facility.  These judges have negatively altered the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of young people, all to serve their own greed.  It is absolutely despicable, and, in my opinion, they are getting off easy.

    I don't give the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that much credit here either.  A non-profit juvenile law center had previously filed a petition with the Court, joined by the state department of children's services, seeking to have the Court intervene in the juvenile cases in the county because the incarceration rates there were way outside the norm throughout the state, and there were numerous complaints about these judges convicting and sentencing juveniles to detention facilities without even fully advising them of their right to an attorney, and of the potential consequences of their proceeding without an attorney.  The Court rejected the petition without comment.  Then, the news broke that it was outright corruption, the petition was refiled, and the Court decided it was a good idea to take action.  They are doing the right thing now, but should be ashamed of their willful blindness toward the injustices occurring before the announcement of the criminal charges against the judges.

    I need to stop typing now because the more time I spend thinking and writing about this case, the more I feel my blood pressure rising.

    Actually, they don't know exactly how many (none / 0) (#11)
    by scribe on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 11:39:20 AM EST
    kids it is yet, but the "best" number I've seen is about 2,500.

    With up to about 1,200 possibly still in custody.  

    They have to go through five and one-half years' worth of records:

    Today's ruling, which authorizes Grim [the special master] to overturn the cases, affects as many as 1,200 juveniles, he said. Their cases will be reviewed individually to determine if they meet the court's conditions.

    Ciavarella and another former Luzerne County judge, Michael T. Conahan, have pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking $2.6 million in secret payments from the former owner of two juvenile detention centers.

    The judges admitted that they helped the centers secure a county contract worth millions of dollars. Ciavarella routinely sentenced children to them.

    Both men have agreed to spend 87 months in prison. They are free on bond while a federal judge considers the plea deal.

    "We are very pleased that the court has issued this order expunging hundreds of cases of juveniles who suffered at the hands of Ciavarella," said Marsha Levick, legal director for the Philadelphia based Juvenile Law Center, which filed the case.

    "We think this is just the beginning," said Levick, who added that Grim has 120 days to make all his recommendations on how to handle the remaining cases.

    The ruling is the first good news for juvenile defendants in a sweeping investigation into corruption at the Luzerne County Courthouse that has already netted 4 guilty pleas and prompted the County court clerk to cooperate with federal authorities.

    A County probation official, Sandra Brulo, 56, pleaded guilty today to altering a court document in a juvenile case. She's also agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

    The court's ruling also comes more than a month after the high court asked Berks County Judge Arthur E. Grim to review the cases of an estimated 2,500 juveniles Ciavarella sentenced in the county between 2003 and 2008.

    Grim moved quickly to select the most pressing cases, including those involving juveniles who were still in detention. Grim made his recommendation to the court on March 13.

    I get the feeling that the part about the probation clerk pleading guilty and the court official cooperating with the feds (who may be the same person - the paper does not make it clear) that the judges being recipients of kickbacks for populating the private jail was not the whole extent of this.  I suspect that they had to have drawn in people like court clerks, bailiffs, court reporters, prosecutors and cops (and maybe defense attorneys) because there is no way an adjudication could be made to send kids to jail without those people playing their parts in the judicial charade.  They would have to have falsified the parts of the paperwork which indicated that, for example, the judge had read the kid his/her rights, that the kid was represented, and so on.  And the only way the judges would have been able to pull that off would have been to pass some of the payoffs along to those courthouse personnel.

    It's bad enough that these two judges were on the take, but I suspect the whole courthouse was rotten.


    There's a story on Orange about (none / 0) (#1)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 06:04:25 PM EST
    a prosecutor in a neighboring county who is trying to send some girls to what he calls a "re-education camp" for taking pictures of themselves scantily clad and sending them to their friends.  Someone commented on this judge in the thread.  Makes you wonder if this judge is the only one these private firms have entangled.

    "Re-education camp?" (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by MO Blue on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 06:33:49 PM EST
    Exactly what country are we in? Evidently I wasn't paying attention when our government was taken over by N. Korea.

    Haven't they stopped by your house (none / 0) (#5)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 07:06:28 PM EST
    to install the radio that you can't turn off in your house yet?  Sigh.

    Wyoming County "sexting" case (none / 0) (#9)
    by Peter G on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 08:08:07 PM EST
    Yes, Wyoming County is adjacent to Luzerne.  Here's the ACLU of PA press release on the case.  I'm pretty sure that it's the ACLU-PA (on whose board I serve) that is referring to the DA's made-up counseling program as "re-education," not the DA himself. Implied comparison to North Korea/Vietnam/China intended. The ACLU has sued in federal court for an injunction to bar the DA from bringing these bogus charges or forcing the families to let him set their children's rules of behavior. It would be highly unusual (because of federalism), but in this case quite possible, for the federal judge to issue that order to the local DA.  The motion for an injunction was argued in federal court today, but the judge didn't announce his decision yet.

    Bogus Charges Indeed (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by MO Blue on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 09:02:28 PM EST
    This whole thing is ridiculous.

    The district attorney told a group of parents and students in February that he has the authority to prosecute girls photographed in underwear, like the ACLU's clients, or even in a bikini on the beach, because the photos are "provocative."

    No way he should have the authority to prosecute girls photographed in underwear or in a bikini on the beach. Man went way over the line IMO.


    Overal, I respect the courts a great deal (none / 0) (#4)
    by 1980Ford on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 06:57:14 PM EST
    Because overall the courts respect the Constitution. This is a fine example of that.

    Another Pennsylvania case (none / 0) (#7)
    by ding7777 on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 07:15:04 PM EST
    2.6M goes a loooong way in Luzerne County. (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 12:19:37 PM EST
    Truly repulsive.