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Judges Jail Kids 4 Millions in Kickbacks

February 12th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


This is not a California story, but it is so breathtakingly callous in its lack of regard
for the well-being of kids—so evil really—that it cannot possibly go unremarked here.

At 1 p.m. today, Thursday, two judges from Luzerne County Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, will plead guilty to charges that they took $2.6 million in payoffs to put kids in privately-operated juvenile prisons, whether they belonged there or not. To put it more plainly, these two men locked up hundreds, maybe thousands of teenagers—not because the kids required or deserved incarceration—the judges did it for the money. Big money.

The AP had this on the story:

For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

The Pennylvania Supreme Court is now being asked to look at hundreds, of cases that may need to be overturned and/or expunged. It is probable, say authorities and youth advocates, the number will climb to the thousands.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.

The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.

Seven years does not seem anywhere near to long enough.

Posted in crime and punishment, juvenile justice | 8 Comments »

8 Responses

  1. pokey Says:

    This is another one of those cases where Celese will make a Death Penalty exception along with the Wolf murderers.

  2. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Damn right!

  3. WBC Says:

    Yup, this is an egregious one: kids locked up for months for stealing loose change out of a car (whose car?) with no prior? And it’s the fact that there were thousands of kids, earning these judges $2.5 million? How could they have hidden so much money? Was it received in cash? Are judges subject to financial oversight like other elected officials? Or were these judges appointed and exempt? Many questions…

    This reminds me of how thousands of people were incarcerated in mental institutions by the former incarnation of Tenet Healthcare (when the scandal hit, the chain’s stock went into freefall, and there was new management — I HOPE I recall correctly that the old management was jailed), on flimsy pretexts, just for the insurance payments. The idea of going to see a shrink for a “routine consult” and getting locked up for months “on doctor’s orders” is truly scary. When we give people like judges and shrinks and health care facilities so much arbitrary power over our liberties, they need more professional AND financial oversight than they get now.

  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    WBC, the local PA paper, the Times-Leader has lots of this stuff.

    It makes for great and horrifying reading if you don’t mind falling down a news rabbit hole.

  5. Judge a man not by his car, but by his pump Says:

    Lets not forget the former judge who was sentenced to four years in prison for using a penis pump under his robe while he presided himself over jury trials. He was convicted of four felony counts of indecent exposure. Police built a case against the judge after a police officer testifying in a 2003 murder trial saw a piece of plastic tubing disappear under the judge’s robe. Investigators later checked the carpet, the judge’s robes and the chair behind the bench and found semen. It’s rumored the judge would prepare for the day with a “love cocktail” of cranberry juice, Viagra and a Amphetamine before leaving home.

  6. John Moore Says:

    The 2 corrupt judges are infinitely worse than the priapic former judge.

  7. Judge a man not by his car, but by his pump Says:

    Biblical constipation – “Balaam’s ass would not move”
    You are exquisitely anal retentive Johnny Moore, See you in church.

  8. Charles Says:

    I grew up in Wilkes-Barre. It’s a throwback to the Northeastern US culture of corruption. I thought that things had changed but as late as two years ago, my brother-in-law told me that he was so frustrated by his daughter’s inability to get a local teaching job despite having two Masters degrees and being trained as a reading specialist that he asked someone on the school board who he had to pay and how much. No response. And she still drives two hours to teach in a smaller district.

    These guys are low, but they obviously had very good attorneys. If I were the prosecutor, I’d be looking at something like false imprisonment or some other crime against the person rather than fraud. Sentences are longer for those crimes. I imagine that the attorneys bargained the heck out of the case to get the fraud charged and the shorter time in prison.

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