We struggle to recall a more despicable misuse of the public trust than the “kids-for-cash” scheme that involved judges in Luzerne County and private juvenile detention centers.
On Thursday, some justice was served as Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for accepting more than $1 million in bribes from the builder of two juvenile centers.
The 61-year-old had been tried and convicted of racketeering earlier this year.
Investigators built a case showing that Ciavarella had sent children, some as young as 10, to private lockups. Many of those children were first-time offenders who had committed minor crimes.
Ciavarella had a reputation for running a medieval courtroom, where youngsters were berated and hauled away to jail without the benefit of defense and right in front of their shocked parents.
Ciavarella was found guilty on 12 counts and was acquitted of 27 counts, including the charge of extortion.
A second Luzerne judge, Michael Conahan, was also accused of taking bribes in exchange for sending kids to the centers. Conahan pleaded guilty and is waiting to be sentenced.
We applaud U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik, who handed down the harsh sentence – ignoring pleas from Ciavarella’s attorney.
Lawyer Al Flora argued that his client had been punished enough by the publicity generated by the case.
Ciavarella never admitted taking money for favors to businesses.
He pointed the finger at prosecutors, who he said branded him unfairly as the “kids-for-cash” judge.
“Those three words made me the personification of evil,” Ciavarella said in an Associated Press report.
We say Ciavarella earned that reputation through his own actions.
To make matters worse, the scandal led the state Supreme Court to toss some 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.
The high court said the judge violated the juveniles’ constitutional rights by denying them legal counsel.
Before his sentence was read, Ciavarella said: “I blame no one but myself for what happened.”
Well, at least he got that right.
But the trail of pain and injustice he left in his wake merits the level of punishment he received.
We join the parents of the children Ciavarella mistreated in wishing him a long and unpleasant stay in prison.
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