When I think of judicial corruption, I think of Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Yemen and other countries where justice can be bought and sold. I never think of Pennsylvania. When I think of Pennsylvania I envision rustic Amish carts drawn by horses and little girls wearing bonnets.
I hope the little Amish girls were not victims of the kickback operation engineered by former Pennsylvania State Court Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella Jr. Together they arranged to close down the government-run juvenile detention facility and deliver young offenders to serve time in two private juvenile detention centres owned by a friend, in exchange for money: $2.8 million.
It went something like this. A juvenile offender would appear in their court on a petty offense, say theft or failing to appear. With no lawyer to assist them and contrary to a probation officer’s recommendation, Judges Conahan and Ciavarella would find the minor guilty and order them to serve a custodial sentence in their friend’s juvenile prison. One of the conspirators in the plot was a well-known lawyer, Robert Powell, who eventually wore a wire to obtain incriminating evidence against the Judges in exchange for a plea deal for himself.
Upon their arrests in 2009 the Judges resigned their elected positions and almost immediately entered into plea bargains to plead guilty to honest services fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion, in exchange for seven year prison sentences. At the plea hearing, it was apparent to the trial judge that Mark Ciavarella would not admit that he was involved in a “cash for kids” deal, minimizing the transactions to payments he called “finders fees”. The trial judge refused to accept the plea deals and ordered bail of $1 million for each of the accused.
A grand jury recently handed down a phalanx of new charges including racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery and multiple tax violations. Not to mention a class action civil suit brought by 400 of the victimized juveniles and their parents.
While Judges Conahan and Ciavarella are protected by judicial immunity for their judicial functions, counsel in the class action suit intend to argue that their deliberate fraud ought to permeate that immunity. As well, administrative decisions made by a judge are not caught by judicial immunity.
Judge Conahan has now made a second plea deal for one count of racketeering while Judge Ciavarella vows to fight on.
The reputation of a province or state’s justice system cannot tolerate rogue judges who do more than damage the victims of their crimes; they undermine a community’s trust in one of the most sacred foundational principles of a democracy: The Rule of Law.
Social reformist Henry Ward Beecher succinctly stated: ” Taking all the robes of all the Judges that have lived on the face of the earth, and they would not be large enough to cover the iniquity of one corrupt Judge.”
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang