Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kid's For Cash

It's obviously the economy, but sometimes something is just so over the top that it needs additional exposure.  Per Ian Urbina of the New York Times:
Things were different in the Luzerne County juvenile courtroom, and everyone knew it. Proceedings on average took less than two minutes. Detention center workers were told in advance how many juveniles to expect at the end of each day — even before hearings to determine their innocence or guilt. Lawyers told families not to bother hiring them. They would not be allowed to speak anyway.
Urbina does a solid reporting on this follow up article on the unbelievable corruption in a Central Pennsylvania County juvenile justice system. There is no need to repeat the major facts regarding the case against Mark A Ciavarella. The most disturbing aspect of this is that "everybody knew it". Ciavarella doesn't seem to acknowledge it, even though he agreed to plead guilty in a deal that would give him 8 years in jail.
In what authorities are calling the biggest legal scandal in state history, the two judges pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud in a scheme that involved sending thousands of juveniles to two private detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks.
But as he pleaded guilty last month and admitted having “disgraced” the bench, Judge Ciavarella denied that payments had influenced his sentencing decisions.
Consider his rather lengthy letter defending his actions from a critical review by his replacement, Chester B. Muroski, in a press release. I expect the facts are much more confusing and convoluted then anyone could imagine.
The prosecutors who worked in disgraced Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.’s courtroom share part of the blame for the injustices he perpetrated on thousands of Luzerne County juveniles, said Marsha Levick, the legal director of the Juvenile Law Center.
Ciavarella said last May he was “wrong” to skip directly to sentencing instead of reading a required reminder of their right to an attorney. Around the same time, Ciavarella, who had presided over juvenile court from 1996 to May 2008, stepped aside as juvenile court judge and appointed Judge David W. Lupas as his replacement. Lupas, who served as district attorney from 2000 to 2008, could not be reached for comment at his chambers Friday.
In addition, Ciavarella’s daughter, Lauren, is an assistant district attorney.
Lauren, 27, followed Ciavarella into the law, and has worked as an assistant district attorney in the Luzerne County district attorney's office since last January.
Lauren needs to get a job without any hint of nepotism. Lupas should go also. Meanwhile, another judge was forced off the bench following a lengthy review for what now sound like laughably minor charges, based on testimony by Ciavarella and court staff under his authority.  Meanwhile, Ciavarella is not waiving any of his rights in his attempt to cut the best deal possible.
Ciavarella remained adamant that he did not plead guilty to any charges related to “cash for kids,” embezzlement or extortion.
“We came to [a] plea agreement because we would never agree that [the sentencing] was improper. And that’s why in the plea agreement you don’t see any of that language,” Ciavarella said.
I suppose if you have pled guilty to tax evasion and taking illegal kickbacks, then the fine points regarding whether the cash influenced his decisions can be left to individuals to decide.  Perhaps Ciavarella, like O. J. Simpson, could pen a book during his prison stay similar to Simpson's If I Did It.

If there is any justice in this matter, it will be the rather rough justice of a disgraced judge spending time in prison and then endless amounts of time and money defending the civil lawsuits that will arise out of this matter.

The abuse of power and office are shocking and outrageous.  I suppose the fact that it was eventually uncovered says something positive about democratic process.  People went into a juvenile court without a lawyer expecting to get some sort of deal and ended up in the corrections industry.  There is an element of social class (as always) associated with the victims.  However, if they watch television, they should know that you never confess and need to lawyer up as soon as possible.

No comments: