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Kids for Cash Judge Sued in Class Action Suit

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 23, 2011 5:52 AM

Two years ago, news broke that Mark Ciavarella, a juvenile court judge in Pennsylvania, wrongly sent hundreds of juveniles to private detention centers in exchange for nearly $1 million in kickbacks.

The "kids for cash" scheme was a shocking revelation, and caused the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to dismiss over 4,000 cases Mark Ciavarella presided over between 2003 and 2008. One of those kids for cash ended up killing himself.

As the kids for cash judge left court, Sandy Fonzo began to accost him. Her son, Edward Kenzakoski, killed himself last year as a result of Mark Ciavarella's corruption. Edward was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the Daily News, but despite the fact that he was in line to receive a college scholarship, Mark Ciavarella sentenced him to four months at a camp and 30 days in jail. He didn't get the scholarship, the paper reports, and Sandy Fonzo was left with a depressed son who later ran into legal problems.

While the kids for cash judge appeals his recent conviction, he will also be dealing with a class-action civil lawsuit in which it is alleged that he engaged in racketeering, civil conspiracy, wrongful imprisonment, and violated civil and due process rights.

Will Mark Ciavarella's criminal conviction have any impact on the outcome of the civil lawsuit?

Potentially. Verdicts and findings in civil proceedings are governed by a legal doctrine known as "collateral estoppel." Collateral estoppel basically says that a legal conclusion from a prior proceeding is binding on the parties involved. This is basically to prevent re-litigation of an important fact. Some jurisdictions grant estoppel effect to criminal convictions, which means that a victim can use a criminal conviction to show the defendant's liability. If Pennsylvania permits the use of a conviction in this manner, the plaintiffs won't have to prove that Mark Ciavarella is liable for the harm caused by the "kids for cash" scheme.

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