Sunday, January 10, 2010

A tangled legal nightmare

You may be aware of the case of Pennsylvania judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan. In February last year the New York Times reported:

... the[y] appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.

There's more at the link.

Later, the two struck a 'sweetheart' plea-bargain deal, which was eventually overruled.

Citing obstruction of justice, a federal judge rejected the plea agreement of two former Pennsylvania county judges who pleaded guilty in February to a kickback scheme that involved sending juveniles to private detention facilities.

The decision opens the way for the men to be sentenced by the judge directly or face a jury trial.

. . .

In a highly critical order, issued Friday, Judge Edwin M. Kosik of Federal District Court in Scranton, Pa., said he based his decision on the comments and conduct of the two men after they entered guilty pleas to serve 87 months in prison.

Judge Kosik said the presentence report prepared by probation officers found that Mr. Conahan “refused to discuss the motivation behind his conduct, attempted to obstruct and impede justice and failed to clearly demonstrate affirmative acceptance of responsibility with his denials and contradiction of evidence.”

“Defendant Ciavarella is less obstructive,” the judge continued, “but instead has resorted to public statements of remorse, more for his personal circumstances, yet he continues to deny what he terms ‘quid pro quo,’ his receipt of money as a finder’s fee, not withstanding the government’s abundance of evidence of his routine deprivation of children’s constitutional rights by commitments to private juvenile facilities he helped to create in return for a ‘finder’s fee’ in direct conflict with his judicial roles.”

Again, there's more at the link.

Quite apart from the disgrace these two judges brought to the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system, their misconduct has now placed a staggering burden on that system. They'd presided over something like 6,500 cases between 2003 and 2008. In November last year, every one of those verdicts was overturned. That won't help those who've already served time in a juvenile facility (except that now those convictions will be expunged from their records), but something like 100 of the juveniles concerned are still either in detention or under supervision. Now the juvenile justice system has to decide whether to re-try every case, or only certain cases, and juggle time served versus any new sentence that may be imposed upon re-conviction. It's going to be an administrative nightmare.

I heard today from a friend and fellow pastor in Pennsylvania, who's been involved in helping to sort out this mess. He says that already ambulance-chasers lawyers are trying to launch a class-action suit for damages to be awarded to all those whose convictions have been overturned. If it goes ahead, can you imagine the size of the damages Pennsylvania may have to pay out? My friend says that he's hearing mention of sums in the hundreds of millions at least, if not billions. Needless to say, that will come out of the pockets of the citizens of that State, via their taxes.

I can only hope that the two crooked judges receive a sentence that will reflect not only the dishonesty of their actions, but also the financial and other costs to the State as a result. I understand the maximum sentence they may face under Federal guidelines is 25 years imprisonment. I'd say even a day less would be a travesty of justice.



Anonymous said...

Too bad we couldn't horsewhip these two in the town square. It seems the justice system needs a lesson in the value of denunciation and deterrence.


Anonymous said...

I doubt even 25 years would come close to all the time served by those kids he sold. They'd better not serve it in a "country club" facility. Then again, they will have to be in protective custody the entire time, won't they?


Geodkyt said...

I've long thought that those who make verifiably proven false accusations, or those officials who tinker with the legal system to get someone unjustly convicted, should -- as a MINIMUM, and only threshold, punishment -- be given the sentence they attempted (or succeeded) if railroading someone else into.