Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Luzerne County judges plead guilty to what essentially adds up to racketeering

In February, two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges pled guilty to charges of incarcerating minors as a means for kick-back money from the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care in exchange for what officials are calling "referrals." Since 2003, it is estimated that judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas have "referred" around 5,000 young men and women and have received roughly $2.6 million for their doing so.

Many of these juveniles were sentenced to jail time for seemingly minor offenses. In one particular case, Wilkes-Barre high school student Hillary Transue was sentenced to three months in a juvenile detention facility for creating a fake MySpace page that was aimed at making fun of her high school principal. As it was with many like Transue, she had no prior offenses, no record, and no history of criminal behavior. Officials say that the judges' most incriminating offenses were that they impeded courtroom access to legal counsel and interfered with the juvenile probation department's ability to recommend probation and community service over incarceration. According to Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, appointed to proceed over much of these hearings, "In my entire career, I have never heard of anything remotely resembling this disgusting display of shear neglect of the law by those of whom we appoint to protect it."

Initially, the case seems like another example of corrupt judges abusing the unregulated capitalistic system of for-profit detention centers. Once prosecutors dug deeper, however, it was realized that the two judges were actually impresarios of what may be one of the most shockingly inhumane cases of profit for power that Pennsylvania has ever seen. It turns out that Ciavarella and Conahan actually initiated the scheme with PA Child Care co-owner Robert J. Powell and contractor Robert K. Mericle to close the county-run juvenile detention centers. Once the facilities were closed, Mericle built privately run centers. When the for-profit facilities were built, Powell agreed with Ciavarella and Conahan to fill the detention center with minors and guarantee that the facility would stay near capacity at all times; of course, profits would then be split accordingly.

As the state waits to find out what will happen to all parties involved, the lasting effects of time-in-jail continues to resonate with every faulty imprisoned victim and will likely stay with them for the rest of their lives.

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