Pennsylvania Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan's Mischief Anything but Juvenile

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By Admin on February 11, 2009 4:25 PM

In a shocking display of judicial corruption, the AP reports that two senior juvenile court judges in a Pennsylvania county have been charged in a kickback scheme which may have resulted in hundreds of juveniles being wrongfully sent to detention centers for minor offenses. The judges, who were recently removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, are actually scheduled to plead guilty to fraud on Thursday with their agreements calling for "sentences of more than seven years behind bars."

The charges alleged that the judges set up a scheme with two privately operated youth detention centers, in which the judges would send kids off to the detention centers in exchange for what apparently ended up being millions of dollars in kickbacks. A Pennsylvania attorney shared her opinion on the degree of the corruption with the AP:

"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 AP also noted that the scheme was long-running in nature, as well:

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters' constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

Interestingly, other reports have pointed out that the misconduct of the judges may not have been limited to juvenile court proceedings. So what's next for the victims of these judges-gone-wild? Suing judges, particularly for money damages, can typically be a challenging endeavor as they enjoy judicial immunity from suit. However, judges are immune only for their judicial functions or acts, and victims could argue that the act of taking money in exchange for sentencing behavior was not a "judicial act", even if a judge's actual rendering of a sentence is. Alternatively, the private detention center operators could be targeted for their part in the scheme, as well. One angry mother has already started a lawsuit based on what happened to her daughter.

As for the juvenile records of the victims, the AP notes that the state's high court "is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles' records expunged."