FEBRUARY 03, 2009
Two Pennsylvania judges recently suspended by the state’s Supreme Court have pleaded guilty to federal charges that they took millions of dollars in kickbacks in an ongoing corruption scheme of incarcerating juveniles for a profit.
The disgraced Luzerne County judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan, admitted accepting $2.6 million in exchange for rulings that favored the developers of a local juvenile detention center. The judges regularly violated state and federal laws by sentencing many youths who had committed minor offenses to the residential youth facility, often without benefit of counsel.
Ciaverella also presided over 10 cases tried by the attorney whose holding company bribed him and his corrupt colleague. The attorney (Robert J. Powell) won nearly $16 million for his clients in Ciaverella’s courtroom, three of the cases yielding multi million-dollar verdicts. Assigning the cases to Ciaverella was Conahan, the court’s president judge at the time.
The corrupt jurists have each been sentenced to seven years in federal prison and ordered to pay millions in restitution. Neither will work as a judge again and both will be permanently banned from practicing law in Pennsylvania. A few months ago a separate Luzerne County judge, Ann Lokuta, was removed by the state Court of Judicial Discipline for misconduct in an unrelated matter.
The federal investigation into juvenile court doesn’t end with the two prison-bound judges, however. Authorities searched the home of a high-ranking Luzerne County official this week in connection with the scheme and the county’s new president judge has suspended payments to a court administrator who may be involved in the scandal.
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