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Most Revolting Corruption Story in a Long Time:

Eastern Pennsylvania has a terrible reputation for judicial corruption and venality -- the stories one hears from practitioners and others around Philadelphia are truly awful, with bags full of money and all the rest. But a story in the NY Times today breaks new, and more nauseating, ground. Two judges in the Wilkes-Barre area have pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks -- $2.6 million worth -- from local juvenile detention centers for sentencing young offenders to time in the facility (the facilities were reimbursed by the state on a per-prisoner basis, so the more kids they had, the more money they earned). So dozens and dozens of kids who would ordinarily have expected to get a slap on the wrist -- for writing nasty things about their high school principals on Facebook, for starting fights in the playground, that sort of thing -- received sentences of several months in the detention facility instead, all, it turns out, to line the pockets of the judges.

Maybe it's just because I am a parent with two kids of my own, or maybe I'm just a soft-hearted romantic, but to do this to young people for the sake of a few bucks (or 2.6 million bucks, or 260 million bucks) is -- well, you pick your own adjective. One has to assume that lives were ruined because of this -- 3 months in juvy for a high school kid who doesn't belong there is a terrible, terrible thing - and I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked, the judges in question were Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Judge Michael T. Conahan) get the punishment they so truly deserve. 2009, I hope, won't give us anything more shameful than this.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Evil Men:
  2. Most Revolting Corruption Story in a Long Time:
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I wonder if this could be placed in the crime against the state category that major drug trafficking is that allows for execution for crimes other than murder? Seems deserving of it.

Course, even if the legislature tried it the courts would probably protect themselves by saying no.
2.13.2009 8:20pm
autolykos:
You're right to be disgusted. I have very little patience for people who abuse our judicial system in general, but stories like this are just mindboggling.
2.13.2009 8:22pm
josil (mail):
One hopes they will lose more than their license to practice law.
2.13.2009 8:25pm
autolykos:

I wonder if this could be placed in the crime against the state category that major drug trafficking is that allows for execution for crimes other than murder? Seems deserving of it.


Heh. I was initially thinking the same thing, but figured I'd just come off as a blood-thirsty wingnut.

Maybe I take these things too seriously, but actions like this that undermine our system of laws strike me as particularly egregious.
2.13.2009 8:26pm
roy:
Somewhere in the 22nd century, a historian is grinning inappropriately.
2.13.2009 8:29pm
DiverDan (mail):
There really ought to be a special exception from the 8th Amendment for crimes like these.
2.13.2009 8:35pm
Fub:
... and I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked, the judges in question were Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Judge Michael T. Conahan) get the punishment they so truly deserve.
Tar, feathers, followed by a lifetime of striped sunshine.

Won't happen though. They'll get light sentences, since they weren't writing naughy things on Facebook.
2.13.2009 8:37pm
resh (mail):
The theft of one's youth is a crime we all experience; but to have it done by the filthy hands of injustice rather than by the rugged hands of time is what makes monsters of men.
2.13.2009 8:44pm
David Welker (www):
From the NY Times article:


They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition, the authorities said, and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.


For libertarians who think that industries tend to "capture" the agencies that regulate them, isn't this a case against privatization of government functions?

That point aside, these judges should get a much harsher sentence than the 67 months specified in the plea agreement.
2.13.2009 8:44pm
Bob_R (mail):
I really have a hard time coming up with a form of punishment that would be harsh enough for these two to be considered cruel. If I were the parent of one of the kids who had been put away...Sorry, not something I should post on the internet.
2.13.2009 8:45pm
BRM:
Can the parents sue these judges using 1983? Seems like the judges would have absolute immunity, at least for the sentencing, as that is a core judicial function. The decision to shut down the county-run detention center might not be a core judicial function, if the judge shut it down in an administrative rather than adjudicative capacity. Even so, I don't know if the act of shutting down the facility would have a sufficient causal connection for the plaintiffs to claim that act infringed their constitutional rights.
2.13.2009 9:11pm
TRE:
I've been following this case for a little while. I'm glad to see they plead guilty to these federal charges, but shouldn't there be a charge to include the actual corrupt acts? Wire fraud and tax charges doesn't even begin to encompass the illegality does it?
2.13.2009 9:12pm
josh bornstein (mail) (www):
What an horrific story. Thanks for posting. All I can do is echo the sentiments of the above posters. Hard to think of a punishment severe enough. (Language Police warning: I think you probably meant to say, ". . . to ensure that their names. . ." instead of 'to insure that . . .")
2.13.2009 9:14pm
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
Will Pennsylvania pursue charges as well?
2.13.2009 9:21pm
mga2 (mail):
Any judicial corrpuption is an awful thing, but this is the worst I have ever heard of. Martin Manton sells a preview of the 2nd circuit's decisions in business cases to inside traders. Bad. Alcee Hastings or the Operation Greylord judges sell acquittals to guilty defendants. Worse. But selling jail time for teenagers? These people deserve to burn in hell and the 87 months the NYT reports is nowhere close to enough time.
2.13.2009 9:21pm
ArthurKirkland:
Experience with several corrupt bench episodes (representing investigating journalists) has provided opportunity to ponder some of the issues involved. I draw a solid line between the petty corruption that spawns leniency toward the well-connected and the revolting corruption that convicts or afflicts the innocent for the benefit of the well-connected. This case appears to involve a particularly obnoxious form of the latter category.

Several shoes await dropping -- who paid the kickbacks? who fed the cases to these judges? -- but already an interesting angle has developed. The owner of the private detention facility appears to be a son of a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and a brother of the current district attorney in the county in which Pittsburgh is located, on the other side of the state. A similar facility, which appears to be owned by the same person, is located near . . . did you guess? . . . Pittsburgh.
2.13.2009 9:22pm
PersonFromPorlock:
18 USC 242 provides for the death penalty when the deprivation of a constitutionally guaranteed right (I'm sure we can find something, here) under color of law involves kidnapping. Heck, it's not even a stretch.
2.13.2009 9:25pm
ras (mail):
They should forfeit their ill-gotten loot, of course, plus serve hard time equal to the total served by all the kids that they sentenced.

And that's just a bare minimum; from a utilitarian viewpoint - and clearly these men and others like them employ a utilitarian, amoral viewpoint - the risk/reward ratio needs to be adjusted by additional punishment in order to discourage similar abuse in the future.
2.13.2009 9:25pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Has the Pennsylvania Bar taken any action?
2.13.2009 9:31pm
autolykos:

Alcee Hastings or the Operation Greylord judges sell acquittals to guilty defendants. Worse.


Keep in mind that in Greylord the judges were convicting innocent people so that they could keep their total conviction numbers in line with other judges. I suppose there's a distinction between kids/adults, but otherwise they're pretty analogous.
2.13.2009 9:31pm
BRM:
18 USC 242 provides for the death penalty when the deprivation of a constitutionally guaranteed right (I'm sure we can find something, here) under color of law involves kidnapping. Heck, it's not even a stretch.

Being sentenced to an excessive sentence by a corrupt judge (who profits from the increased sentence) surely amounts to a due process violation.
2.13.2009 9:34pm
Alexia:

There really ought to be a special exception from the 8th Amendment for crimes like these.


There should be special penalties for all public servants who abuse the trust we have in them.
2.13.2009 9:37pm
The Ghost of Christmas Future:
I'm just kind of shocked that you think anyone in the 22nd century will see this blog! What are you going to do? print it out and bind it in a library?

the digi-files will be looooong gone!
2.13.2009 9:38pm
Tim Fowler (www):
From the Time article

"At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.

Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/us/13judge.html

It would seem to me to not only be a serious corruption issue, but also a 1st amendment issue.
2.13.2009 9:48pm
mga2 (mail):
autolykos, my point was that it's morally more reprehensible to take kickbacks or bribes to send someone to jail, than it is to take such things to acquit, as bad as the latter is. The worst Greylord scandal was the judge who took a bribe to acquit a capital murder defendant, if the defendant waived a jury, and then reneged on the deal and sentecened him to desth.
2.13.2009 9:52pm
JKB:
Surely they should be seizing any assets of these judges that cannot be shown to have been purchased with the legitimate salary and financial assets they possessed at the time.

Surely, immunity can't be claimed for a judge who accepts bribes to alter his official duty discretion. Perhaps showing a bribe influenced a specific case would be difficult but these criminals with gavels should spend the rest of their days defending civil suits and fighting off civil rights violation proceedings.

I suppose it is to much to hope if they get jail time, they do it in the general population where they might meet some of their victims in a more equal setting.
2.13.2009 9:55pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Not just 18 USC 242. Try 18 USC 1584 - Sale into involuntary servitude:
"Whoever knowingly and willfully holds to involuntary servitude or sells into any condition of involuntary servitude, any other person for any term, or brings within the United States any person so held, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If death results from the violation of this section, or if the violation includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or the attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, the defendant shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or life, or both."
2.13.2009 10:04pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Arthur,

Plus conspiracy and 18 USC 1961 racketeering aka RICO, with the predicate offense being bribery under 18 USC 1951. With the conspiracy charge, each conspirator is liable for the acts, and criminal violations, of each other conspirator.

And the US Attorney can seize ALL the assets of the detention facilities and businesses profiting from this.
2.13.2009 10:08pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
BRM,

The parents can sue everyone but the judges and DA's, and there are plenty of deep pockets available. Civil causes of action include RICO as well as 42 USC 1983.
2.13.2009 10:09pm
whit:

"At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.

Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/us/13judge.html

It would seem to me to not only be a serious corruption issue, but also a 1st amendment issue.



i would agree.

so, it's ok for larry flynt to mock jerry falwell, but it's "harassment" for a student to use a webpage to mock her principal?

sorry, that seems inconsistent to me.

note that the war on domestic violence (hate to sound like a broken record here) is a part of the expansion of our laws to include "harassment" and "cyberstalking" and other speech crimes becoming more broad, to protect victims from oh so nefarious mean words.

if there is one thing i am sure the 1st amendment was designed to protect, it is the act of mocking people.
2.13.2009 10:12pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
whit,

The culprits here are about to find out just how wide a net can be thrown using civil conspiracy and RICO. Everyone and every business involved is in deep trouble, the immune judicial officers/DA's excepted. And the judgments won't be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

The counties/cities which used the detention facilities will be liable for all but the punitive damages. It looks like the taxpayers of Luzerne County, Pennsylvannia, will be paying the civil judgments for the next fifty years.
2.13.2009 10:40pm
trad and anon (mail):
There really ought to be a special exception from the 8th Amendment for crimes like these.
And the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 14th too. And Article I, Section 9, clause 3.
2.13.2009 10:41pm
man from mars:
How is this different from the case where a judge accepts campaign contributions from attorneys before him?
2.13.2009 10:48pm
...Max... (mail):
Aside from punishing the judges, what ought to happen there is a good old-fashioned witch hunt. Just how many judicial and law enforcement officials had to help or look the other way for something like that to go on?

[Fantasizing about a really large and juicy auto-da-fe in Eastern PA...]
2.13.2009 10:48pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Max, you have the right idea. Something like this did not involve only a few people. And every single one of them will be liable for all of each and every civil judgment, including all the punitive damages and attorney fees.
2.13.2009 10:52pm
MCM (mail):

so, it's ok for larry flynt to mock jerry falwell, but it's "harassment" for a student to use a webpage to mock her principal?

sorry, that seems inconsistent to me.


It is inconsistent, but students just don't get as much First Amendment protection in school, at school related functions, in regards to school generally, etc.

For example, last August, the 6th Circuit ruled that a principal could ban clothing depicting the Confederate flag.
2.13.2009 11:11pm
Profane (mail) (www):

It looks like the taxpayers of Luzerne County, Pennsylvannia, will be paying the civil judgments for the next fifty years.


Oh joy, it looks like my local income taxes will shoot through the roof - a hazard, I suppose of living in an an area with widespread government corruption. Naturally, everyone who knows the judges is shocked SHOCKED!
2.13.2009 11:21pm
man from mars:
The fallacy with the somewhat overheated analysis in the comments so far is that it fails to distinguish interestedness and malfeasance.

All the charges demonstrate is that the judge was financially interested in sentencing juveniles to detention. They do not show any of these sentences itself was a result of malfeasance by the judge.

It is accepted practice that legal decision-makes may have a financial interest in the the outcomes of their legal decisions.

For example, state legislators routinely accept large campaign contributions from prison guard unions who lobby for changes in laws that increase the number of prisoners. An inmate sentenced for violating a criminal law that was enacted because of campaign contributions from prison guard unions has no cause of action against the legislators or against the guards.

Similarly, judges routinely accept (in some jurisdictions) campaign contributions from attorneys appearing before them. Again, not only is there no cause of action against the judge or opposing attorneys by litigants harmed by the judge's decisions in such cases, but the judge's rulings are upheld in such situations.

Thus, the fact that the judge had an indirect financial interest in incarcerating inmates is not grounds for a cause of action by the inmates; moreover, that type of financial interest is standard operating procedure in all phases of the criminal justice system at the state court level, from legislation to judicial appointments to judicial decisions.
2.13.2009 11:24pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
man from mars,

They pleaded guilty to "wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks".

Kickbacks are also known as bribes, and bribery is an offense under both 18 USC 1951 and 18 USC 1961. I'd have to see the federal charges and the criminal judgment but, if they pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, it is NOT a:

"type of financial interest [thkat] is standard operating procedure in all phases of the criminal justice system at the state court level, from legislation to judicial appointments to judicial decisions."
2.13.2009 11:34pm
whit:

It is inconsistent, but students just don't get as much First Amendment protection in school, at school related functions, in regards to school generally, etc.

For example, last August, the 6th Circuit ruled that a principal could ban clothing depicting the Confederate flag.



i would draw a bright line between the school's authoritah at a school function, on school grounds, etc. vs. what a kid does on his OWN TIME with his OWN computer and his own website.

i have no problem with schools being able to (within certain limits) censor speech in the classroom (every teacher needs to do this obviously), mandate codes of dress, bla bla bla. as far as i am concerned the whole in loco parentis thang means schools are like the kids parents and have rather wide latitude.

heck, in my state, a teacher can legally (according to the RCW not necessarily according to school policy obviously) PHYSICALLY discipline a kid, and that is not assault.

the only people who can do that by law are parents, the school, or legal guardians.

but that is completely different from what they can do in regards to the kids off-campus non-school activities.

furthermore, this wasn';t a case of the SCHOOL disciplining the kid for mocking the teacher in his personal website.

this was a case where the state deemed it a CRIMINAL offense, which is a whole other problem.
2.14.2009 12:25am
Fub:
Tim Fowler wrote at 2.13.2009 9:48pm:
From the Time article

"At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.
It's not unreasonable to believe some prosecutors were in on the kickback scheme. A school principal might suspend a student for that, but what kind of a prosecutor would bring criminal charges?
2.14.2009 12:37am
Daryl Herbert (www):
Are the judges personally liable for their actions, or do they have absolute immunity?
2.14.2009 12:46am
Chris 24601 (mail) (www):
I'm with Thomas Holsinger. Seems like a pretty close analogy to slave trading to me.
2.14.2009 1:03am
Frater Plotter:
They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition, the authorities said, and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.
For libertarians who think that industries tend to "capture" the agencies that regulate them, isn't this a case against privatization of government functions?
Yes, in part. The problem here (and elsewhere) is the mixture of the private and the governmental: specifically, the private ability to turn a profit and to pay it out at will, and the governmental ability to use coercion, in this case the sentencing power.

When government functions can be entirely privatized, that is a good thing. For instance, if the state sells a park off to a private firm that will maintain it and charge admission, but which has no governmental function, that's just fine: the private firm will have an interest in maintaining it as a revenue source. Likewise selling a wildlife sanctuary to private groups such as the Nature Conservancy or Ducks Unlimited is a sensible and sane thing that does not pose a "capture" problem.

But prisons, by definition, cannot be entirely privatized since no private party has the power to imprison. The function of a prison is inherently governmental, because it is coercive -- in a way that ownership and maintenance of a park or forest is not.

I would argue that the state should not have the power to contract out certain functions to the private sector. Among these would be the police power; also the power to make war, except insofar as provided by (e.g.) letters of marque. Historically there has been corruption associated with other privatizations of state power, such as the taxation power in various times.
2.14.2009 1:23am
autolykos:

Thus, the fact that the judge had an indirect financial interest in incarcerating inmates is not grounds for a cause of action by the inmates; moreover, that type of financial interest is standard operating procedure in all phases of the criminal justice system at the state court level, from legislation to judicial appointments to judicial decisions.


Did you even read the story? This wasn't a judge that had a couple shares of common stock in a company that runs prisons. They admitted to taking $2.6 MILLION in bribes for putting kids in jail. Period. It wasn't some nominal indirect interest.
2.14.2009 1:30am
whit:

It's not unreasonable to believe some prosecutors were in on the kickback scheme. A school principal might suspend a student for that, but what kind of a prosecutor would bring criminal charges?



one who skipped classes on constitutional law?
2.14.2009 1:31am
Fub:
whit wrote at 2.14.2009 1:31am:
one who skipped classes on constitutional law?
With that much money involved, and no penalty (except political) for losing an appeal on a constitutional issue, I'm inclined to think that if one were involved then he knew what he was doing and didn't care.
2.14.2009 2:13am
Cornellian (mail):
I wonder if the victims have a civil action against the bribers, or whether judicial immunity in some way breaks the chain of causation leading to them.
2.14.2009 2:14am
11-B/2O.B4:
Legal and technical issues aside, if either one of these scum ever sees the light of day again, it will be a rank injustice.
2.14.2009 2:33am
PGS (mail):
Both judges were Democrats too. No mention of that in the NYTimes article however.
2.14.2009 3:04am
Syd Henderson (mail):
Why should we give a goddamn what party they belong to? They belong in prison with life sentences whatever party they belong to. Are you really that desperate?
2.14.2009 3:59am
Syd Henderson (mail):
And I knew from the moment the story was reported that the judges were Democrats. It wasn't exactly a secret.
2.14.2009 4:08am
Leland (mail):
Why should we give a goddamn what party they belong to? They belong in prison with life sentences whatever party they belong to. Are you really that desperate?


Who provided the bribes? Who else was bribed? Who allowed the county-run system to become delapidate? Where there cover-ups that prevented this from being stopped earlier?

Do you really think putting just these two judges in jail eliminates the environment that allowed them to perform this abuse?

Heck if the DA's had recognized that Hillary Transue's "crime" was free speech then they could have not prosecuted it. Why did they? What pursuaded them to pursue the case?
2.14.2009 4:35am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

I wonder if the victims have a civil action against the bribers, or whether judicial immunity in some way breaks the chain of causation leading to them.


A class action suit has been filed against the two judges and "14 other defendants".
2.14.2009 5:46am
NatSecLawGuy:
What does the plea state about the state of pleas in the criminal justice system? I am obviously not in the prosecutor's shoes, but IMHO these are not candidates for pleas. Rather, several theories of punishment would speak against a plea. First, the want for retribution by both state and public is immense here. They not only damaged the community, enraging a desired reparation, but also damaged the role of judges generally damaging the state's character. Second, the need for general deterrence almost begs to be invoked here. Three, while public scorn is high already, a trial would surely keep the heat, and increase the attention on these gruesome individuals. Thus, the prosecutor's decisions to plea here speaks against several theories of punishment. Yes, he gets a plea, and save resources, but is this really the best service he could render to the public?
2.14.2009 7:15am
cboldt (mail):
-- One has to assume that lives were ruined because of this --
.
Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps the utterly wrongful loss of liberty has taught them how trustworthy a government is.
.
This isn't the first complaint that revolves around the money involved in the privatization of incarceration services, and the creation of "crimes" in order to fill the beds and cause the cash to flow.
2.14.2009 7:36am
PersonFromPorlock:
Thomas_Holsinger:

Not just 18 USC 242. Try 18 USC 1584 - Sale into involuntary servitude:

I think 18 USC 242's charm is that "under color of law" flatly invalidates official immunity. Otherwise, 18 USC 1584 is remarkably à propos.
2.14.2009 7:49am
Pragmaticist:
For each kid wrongfully sent away, they should be convicted on a count of kidnapping.
2.14.2009 8:42am
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

Naturally, everyone who knows the judges is shocked SHOCKED!


Yeah, I don't buy it either. No man capable of the arrogance necessary to carry out such a scheme can possibly conceal it all of the team. That sort of assholery gets manifested in some way.
2.14.2009 9:45am
erp:
Syd, we know it only matters when the culprits are Republicans. With Democrats, it's expected.
2.14.2009 10:14am
Deep Lurker (mail):

There really ought to be a special exception from the 8th Amendment for crimes like these.


I sometimes think that way too. Then I think "hanging was good enough for the Nazi war criminals, so it ought to be good enough for these sorts of criminals as well."

(Is it a violation of Godwin's Law if you defend people by comparing them to Nazis?)
2.14.2009 10:37am
ChrisIowa (mail):
From the original Post

Eastern Pennsylvania has a terrible reputation for judicial corruption and venality -

And Elliot123 asks:

Has the Pennsylvania Bar taken any action?

To which we have less than the sound of crickets chirping in response.
If the bar is aware that the situation is not quite right, if they do not do anything they have earned their reputation as a bunch of charlatans, knaves, and crooks.
2.14.2009 10:40am
veteran:
I saw this story the other day and having read some of your comments was reminded of something I read a few years ago

http://www.dunwalke.com/introduction.htm

Jump to paragraph 6 to see if it peaks your interest.

It is by Catherine Austin Fitts
2.14.2009 10:45am
Cornellian (mail):
Legal and technical issues aside, if either one of these scum ever sees the light of day again, it will be a rank injustice.

I guess we have a rank injustice day to put on our calendars then, since the article says they're getting only something like seven years. Maybe even less depending on how their parole system works.

Let's hope they're sentenced to spend it in the same facility with all those kids they wrongly imprisoned.
2.14.2009 11:06am
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
I think this story is about more than two corrupt judges (or ought to be). Take the Transue case that the Times story opens with, an assitant principle had to report this MySpace page to law enforcement and the local prosecutor had to pick up the ball and run with it. The case never even gets before a corrupt judge absent the poor judgment of these two schmucks.
2.14.2009 11:38am
JoelP:

Similarly, judges routinely accept (in some jurisdictions) campaign contributions from attorneys appearing before them. Again, not only is there no cause of action against the judge or opposing attorneys by litigants harmed by the judge's decisions in such cases, but the judge's rulings are upheld in such situations.


And you see nothing wrong with this??!
2.14.2009 11:55am
Profane (mail) (www):
Here is a link roundup from the local press.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader:
Juvie centers not target of ongoing probe
Conahan got cash from pension fund
Class action suits filed vs. judges

Citizen's Voice:
State stops judge's pay
Judges' actions prompt class-action lawsuits (with links to the lawsuits)
[County Commisioner] Skrepenak: 'I do feel used'
2.14.2009 11:58am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I dunno about appropriate punishment. The old joke about sharks and professional courtesy.
Presuming the largest number of people which would need to have been involved, and the number of agencies (schools, prosecutors, various jurisdictions, cops, plus the juvy operators) what agency is big enough and distant enough to properly chase every one of these bastards?
2.14.2009 11:59am
Alexia:

For libertarians who think that industries tend to "capture" the agencies that regulate them, isn't this a case against privatization of government functions?


Good question, and I had to ask some libertarian friends to defend their position.

Answer is found in the constitution: Juries.
2.14.2009 12:08pm
PaulV (mail):
What does this say about school administrators/school board members who would seek to have criminal charges pursued against a student (for an administrator being satirized on the Internet)?
2.14.2009 12:16pm
d-berg:
They sure were paid for shuttering the county-run prison and enabling the private one. That's where the private company's gain was: becoming a juvenile prison operator. This decision put them in business and gave them a constant stream of "clients". One decision - huge payoff. Bribing a judge to make this decision makes monetary sense to both sides.

Augmenting their cash flow by sending one kid or another to prison who did not have to be there? Sentencing to a longer term than needed? This would be a lot of decisions with very small payoff each. This is a whole different equation and I'm not sure that this was going on there on a large scale.

Summing it up, I hope the prison company bought the judges to get into business, not to increase the number of inmates. I hope they did not really send many kids to do hard time for money.
2.14.2009 12:21pm
countertop (mail):
While the justice system can't do what these scum really deserve, I'm hoping general population does it for us.
2.14.2009 12:21pm
Joe McDermott (mail):
How is it that the Facebook spoof cited in the NYT article was not protected speech?
2.14.2009 12:27pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
I believe buried in the story is that the judges [sic] resigned from the bar as part of the plea, which I suppose moots any action there.

I think more heads will roll (e.g., owners of the detention center). This story is showing a lot more legs than the prosecution must have expected: topic A in much of the blogosphere both right and left.

Perhaps the seven year sentences will be served in a wilderness program. It gets cold out there in the winter.
2.14.2009 12:36pm
nutbump (mail):
Yep, that make me think, that many judges have a kick backs.
So! That is a good article, and good argument against supreme court judges.
2.14.2009 12:40pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
What Tim Fowler said. Why would a statement on Facebook deserve any punishment?

If eastern Pa. has such a terrible reputation, why aren't the honest lawyers, law professors and judges doing something about it?
2.14.2009 1:03pm
TerrencePhilip:
I skimmed the NYT article-- there are some horrific tales of absurd sentences for trivial violations; were any of them successfully appealed?
2.14.2009 1:08pm
Michael B (mail):
"2009, I hope, won't give us anything more shameful than this."

Until that final comment, perhaps, but please. Perspective. If the title of the post is narrowed to: Most Non-Political, Non-Ideological, Unambiguously Revolting Corruption Story in a Long Time in the Domestic Juvenile Court System - then, perhaps.

Otherwise, the stated hope is vain, even silly.

Absent those qualifiers, the entire range of underreported U.N. sex scandals and related, attempted coverups would not top the broader list, but it would surpass the juvenile court issue in question in terms of lives and families destroyed, resulting suicides, various forms of graft and bribes, etc. - for example these U.N. sex scandals not only involve rape, they involve participation in kidnapping, the international sex trade, "kiddie porn," associations with criminal syndicates ...

And yes, the latest instance has been uncovered in 2009.

Perspective.
2.14.2009 1:10pm
Becarria'd (mail):
Another possible offense would be trafficing: selling the bodies of young people to the prison operator who is making money from them, albeit not by forcing them into sexual slavery but by warehousing them.

But, on the appropriate punishment, a long prison term would simply put the judges up at taxpayers' expense. They should, after the sentences agreed to, be required to do a lifetime of community service. They should also be required to meet with every young person wrongly sentenced, to apologize, to attempt to explain their behavior; they should be required as well to attend meetings with the parents and listen, at length, to what the parents have to say.

Finally, although this is a direct kickback scheme, it is certainly reasonable to view this as morally indistinguishable (a) from the action of a politician who votes for longer sentences in order to supply work to prison guards and (b) from the actions of the guard's union in lobbying for longer sentences in order to create/protect jobs.
2.14.2009 1:27pm
Profane (mail) (www):

If eastern Pa. has such a terrible reputation, why aren't the honest lawyers, law professors and judges doing something about it?


Ethical failure seems to be ingrained in the local political culture.
2.14.2009 1:32pm
trad and anon (mail):
They should also be required to meet with every young person wrongly sentenced, to apologize, to attempt to explain their behavior; they should be required as well to attend meetings with the parents and listen, at length, to what the parents have to say.
I think that would violate the 8th Amendment. It would be a grave injustice to force the victims to see these criminals again.

If they are going to be let out, they should at least be subject to a permanent restraining order. I think requiring them to stay at least 100 miles away from each victim is reasonable.
2.14.2009 2:05pm
Kirk:
whit,

If there is one thing I am sure the 1st amendment was designed to protect, it is the act of mocking people in positions of authority.
2.14.2009 2:37pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
More proof that we learn something new every day. I've read the civil class action complaints, and learned that the electronic transfers of bribe money constitute wire fraud, which is a predicate RICO offense. This also explains the criminal charges the judges pled guilty too.

I repeat, though, that this conspiracy had to include multiple district attorneys, public defenders, private defense counsel and probation officers. Plus lots of court personnel - baliffs, clerks, etc. Probably also some deputy state attorneys general - the Pennsylvannia state government might well be included in the RICO "enterprise". I suspect some state legislators were involved too, both in the enabling legislation and in the coverup.

An overt act is not required of civil conspirators. Mere assent to the objectives or unlawful means of the conspiracy is.

Every single one of the individual participants in this is potentially liable, under civil conspiracy, for ALL the damages, including punitive damages, treble RICO damages and attorney fees. And the judgments are not dischargeable in bankrupcty.
2.14.2009 2:58pm
krs:

I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked, the judges in question were Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Judge Michael T. Conahan) get the punishment they so truly deserve.
I don't think the Eighth Amendment allows for it, unfortunately.
2.14.2009 2:59pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke."

Was the prosecutor getting a cut?
2.14.2009 3:20pm
11-B/2O.B4:
Definitely. No one in their right mind who isn't being paid is going to prosecute a minor for a myspace page. Then again, (insert lawyer joke), right and wrong mean less to those whose only concern is winning cases.
2.14.2009 3:37pm
Andrew Janssen (mail):
Just to point out, besides the two judges, the Luzerne County court administrator has also pled guilty to embezzling $700,000+ of seized illegal gambling profits that were supposed to be forfeited to the county treasury.

And to follow up on what Thomas_Holsinger suggested about the extent of the conspiracy, up until recently Luzerne County employed 85 adult and juvenile probation officers, far more than comparable Pennsylvania counties did. The current chief judge for the county just fired 25 of them.
2.14.2009 5:23pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Perhaps it is time for some eponymous neologisms:

'ciavarella': vt, to abuse power for money, esp. in re abuse of minors. Ex: 'I'll ciavarella any kid for enough dough."

'conahaned': adj., (1) to have been deprived of one's rights by corrupt judicial conduct; (2) mistreated for pecuniary gain. Ex: 'Those kids and their families were conahaned.'

This might keep the [dis]honorable judges' names in the public consciousness, with suitable connotation.
2.14.2009 5:59pm
methodact:
2.14.2009 6:23pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
I used to think that only murder, treason, slavery, forcible rape and faginy could merit execution. I hadn't heard of the crime of falsely incarcerating persons wholesale for money then, though.

Yes, this should potentially be a capital crime.

I wonder if any rationalizations they employed for it have come to light, or if they didn't even care to justify their own actions to themselves in any way?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
2.14.2009 8:01pm
Waldo (mail):
I don't suppose there's a prison facility in North Korea that we can contract to hold these guys.
2.14.2009 8:52pm
ReaderY:
What truly astonishes me is that this is being perceived and prosecuted as a relatively minor white-collar crime -- mail/wire fraud -- rather than as a crime of violence. How is it that a seven-year sentence can be justifiable as an adequate punishment for systematic gang kidnapping for cash and destroying the credibility of the justice system to boot?

Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the federalization of the business of prosecuting crimes is that traditional state matters -- protecting children, protecting the integrity of justice, preventing violence against the person -- simply get ignored as crimes are increasingly recast into a federalizable lens in order to be federally prosecutable.

Perceiving the essence of an offense like this as being a mere commercial fraud, punishable as nothing more than a commerical fraud, is nothing short of a perversion of justices. Prosecuting this way announces to the public that we are a society that values protecting money from loss far more than we value protecting children or justice.

If I were the judge, I would refuse to accept the proposed plea agreement. The proposed agreement demeans justice. It is simply not reasonable for a crime as serious as this to to punished this lightly.

Bring serious charges -- kidnapping, for example -- reflecting that these are crimes of violence and crimes against justice. Don't accept a plea bargaining permitting a sentence less than the sum of all illegal sentences given. Take this one to trial if need be. And if the feds don't have laws that can treat a matter like this as a serious matter, prosecute it as a state matter.

This is a serious crime, not a federal one.
2.14.2009 9:04pm
Bored Lawyer:
1. The judges do enjoy absolute immunity. However, that immunity is only from civil suit by a private plaintiff. The immunity does not apply at all to criminal prosecution. Hence their indictments.

2. "This is a serious crime, not a federal one." I fail to see the contradiction. Federal crimes can be serious -- many result in life sentences or more. They should be prosecuted for conspiracy to deprive citizens of their civil rights, and sent to prison for a long time. 20 to 30 years, I am thinking.

BTW, the Court could order restitution as part of the criminal sentence. That would be a way to compensate the victims.
2.14.2009 9:19pm
Mike S.:
It is a shame the Constitution forbids bills of attainder.
2.14.2009 10:17pm
PGS (mail):
Why should we give a goddamn what party they belong to? - Syd Henderson

Because it's part of the story. And seems to follow a pattern: Kilpatrick, Blagojevich and now these two idiots.

If the two judges had by chance happened to be Republicans, and Bush was still in power, I'm sure we'd be all too aware what party the corrupt judges belonged to.

And I knew from the moment the story was reported that the judges were Democrats. It wasn't exactly a secret. - Syd Henderson

But hardly well known to the general public. I still fail to understand your hypersensitivity to the issue though.
2.14.2009 11:10pm
Kirk:
PGS,
I still fail to understand your hypersensitivity to the issue though.
I posit the Mr. Henderson is a Democrat--or, if not an actual party member, votes mostly for D's.
2.15.2009 1:16am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I used to think that only murder, treason, slavery, forcible rape and faginy could merit execution. I hadn't heard of the crime of falsely incarcerating personschildren wholesale for money then, though.
FIFY.
2.15.2009 1:35am
autolykos:

They should be prosecuted for conspiracy to deprive citizens of their civil rights, and sent to prison for a long time. 20 to 30 years, I am thinking.


I really don't understand the point of the civil rights laws. If stuff like this and Mike Nifong doesn't fall under the scope of civil rights laws, what's their point? Why aren't these kinds of actions criminalized on a federal level?
2.15.2009 2:02am
Ursus Maritimus:
They should serve a prison term equal to the total prison time suffered by the victims of their conspiracy to kidnapping under color of law. It should add up to a few hundred years.
2.15.2009 5:14am
PersonFromPorlock:
autolykos:

Why aren't these kinds of actions criminalized on a federal level?

They are, and several pertinent laws are cited above. The real question is why these federal crimes aren't prosecuted.
2.15.2009 5:43am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Porlock.
Might set a precedent. Crooked judges being sent away...? Where will it all end?
2.15.2009 10:16am
Dan D (mail):
"If eastern Pa. has such a terrible reputation, why aren't the honest lawyers, law professors and judges doing something about it?"

And why aren't the honest lawyers, law professors and judges doing (note the assumption...) doing something about it in:
Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Kentucky, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, parts of Texas and Florida...
2.15.2009 11:28am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Dan D.
See my previous.

This particular case is so easy. That is, nobody involved had to be geniuses, or make multi-layered plans, that the only reason it isn't done more is scruples--coughsnork--not the degree of difficulty.
Be interesting to have somebody look into every single locality where there is a for-profit juvy. Just for starters.
2.15.2009 11:41am
tyree (mail):
PersonfromPirlock asks, "The real question is why these federal crimes aren't prosecuted?"

Over the last 30 years millions of illegal immigrants streamed across our borders and the Federal Government chose not to prosecute them. By selectively deciding which laws to enforce the Federal Government promotes and Protects it's "Culture of Corruption". This is apparently more important that protecting it's citizens.

Breaking the law is no longer a crime. Breaking a law that Nancy Pelosi's "Culture of Corruption" decides to prosecute is a crime. If you you aren't pr0secuted, you just get something (like 2.7 million dollars or free medical care) for nothing.
2.15.2009 12:24pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"And why aren't the honest lawyers, law professors and judges doing (note the assumption...) doing something about it in:
Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Kentucky, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, parts of Texas and Florida..."


Perhaps there aren't any?
2.15.2009 1:16pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
PaulV,

That's a point. Luzerne County school adminstrators, and possibly school board members, had to be in on it too. Which means more people who will have to pay everything they have for decades as co-conspirators liable for all the judgment. Plus the school districts will have respondeat superior liability for all but the punitive and treble RICO damages.
"What does this say about school administrators/school board members who would seek to have criminal charges pursued against a student (for an administrator being satirized on the Internet)?"
2.15.2009 1:54pm
Disintelligentsia (mail):
Perhaps, if we're lucky, the reason that the sentences and charges weren't harsher is that they cut a deal for turning State's evidence. Hopefully they have a bunch of dirt on the other bastards and the corruption can more thoroughly be routed out.
2.15.2009 4:00pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
BTW, suing the school districts would get insurance coverage, and add more pockets to pay the judgments/settlements.
2.15.2009 4:03pm
ReaderY:
On reflection, perhaps PersonfromPorlock and various other commenters are right. Perhaps the matter is not so much federal vs. state, but the choice among the possible ways of federalizing its character.

Why it has been characterized as a kind of fraud akin to commercial crimes or ordinary white-collar corruption rather than involving civil rights, kidnapping, or slavery and involuntary servitude? The decision to cast it in one light vs. the other may reflect a lack of vision or perspective (or common sense or sense of morality and justice) in execution, rather than a problem of jurisdiction.
2.15.2009 4:44pm
JohnKT (mail):
Of the several blogs I follow, this entry was the first I've seen on this story.

I agree with the commenter who doesn't dare say on the internet what appropriate punishment should be.

There should be a lot more interest in the private companies paying the kickbacks.
2.15.2009 4:56pm
JohnKT (mail):
BTW, speaking of local corruption, please see the story on Tenaha, TX at Grits for Breakfast, Grits

In a number of small Texas towns motorists are arrested on fictitious charges, then have their possessions confiscated under Texas's forfeiture laws. The motorists are coerced into not contesting the forfeitures in return for charges being dropped.

They took almost anything, even the driver's sneakers.

The mayor of Tenaha, George Bowers, defended the seizures as a good way for a cash poor town to fund police dept purchase of more patrol cars.

According to Grits, Tenaha is not the only town.
2.15.2009 5:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Anything action from the Texas Bar on the local prosecutor?
2.15.2009 5:22pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Elliot.
My guess is the local bar needs more evidence. Until the case is proven, any reaction would be previous.
2.15.2009 6:05pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
JohnKT,

The detention facility companies, their owners and officers, and the chief probation officer of Luzerne County are all named defendants in the civil class actions filed last week.
2.15.2009 6:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Thomas. That's a start.
Is there criminal action pending against them, as well?
2.15.2009 7:33pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Richard,

I know nothing of other criminal charges. I printed the civil complaints from links in a story linked above. But, given the news stories in the above links, and from reading the civil complaints, I suspect there are pending criminal charges against the non-judicial defendants and that plea bargaining is underway.

It's SOP in this situation for the rats to compete in ratting on each other. I also think the voters of Luzerne County need a real painful lesson about the cost of tolerating political corruption.
2.15.2009 7:51pm
Brian G (mail) (www):

... and I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked, the judges in question were Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Judge Michael T. Conahan) get the punishment they so truly deserve.


... and I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked, the judges in question were Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and Judge Michael T. Conahan. two Democrats that the NY Times feels does not warrant a mention) get the punishment they so truly deserve.


There, fixed that for you.
2.15.2009 9:00pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Thomas.
I believe the good citizens of Durham are, likewise, going to be finding out what it costs to screw around with people. Difference is, in Durham, railroading rich white jocks was supposed to be a spectator sport with free admission.
In this case, it was merely watching the incredible (three months in juvie for mocking a 'crat???) without questioning that is going to cost them.
2.15.2009 9:12pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I believe the good citizens of Durham are, likewise, going to be finding out what it costs to screw around with people. Difference is, in Durham, railroading rich white jocks was supposed to be a spectator sport with free admission."

I suspect those rich white jocks have done a great service for the poor black folks of Durham.
2.15.2009 9:27pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Elliott. Not, according to KC Johnson, to be seen by the latest elections.
His Durham-in-Wonderland blog was fantastic.
I don't know when the guy sleeps.
2.15.2009 9:42pm
whit:

If the is one thing I am sure the 1st amendment was designed to protect, it is the act of mocking people in positions of authority


yes, that too.



I think this story is about more than two corrupt judges (or ought to be). Take the Transue case that the Times story opens with, an assitant principle had to report this MySpace page to law enforcement and the local prosecutor had to pick up the ball and run with it. The case never even gets before a corrupt judge absent the poor judgment of these two schmucks.


and like i said, we have seen an expansion, at least of ATTEMPTS to prosecute and prohibit various forms of speech that are CLEARLY first amendment protected and/or should be, at least partially due to the war on domestic violence and the overbroad and kneejerk legislation we have seen related to the internet (this also being partially a result of the war on domestic violence).

my state's Cyberstalking statute (RCW 9.61.260) would not apply to what the kid did, since she put up demeaning info on her page, but did not demean the person by contacting them via the internet.

however, look at the text of RCW 9.61.260 and tell me if it doesn't SCREAM to you - overbroad kneejerk legislation, and definitely has 1st amendment issues.

in brief, it is a CRIME in my state to innted to embarass somebody and contact them electronically while using indecent langauge, for instance.

so, if sally emails johnny and says "you are a #A$#$(# johnny and your penis is very small" (the penis comment surely clear evidence of an intent to embarass), that's a CRIME!

this is the kind of crap, "bullying laws" (in this case cyberbullying) that many, especially on the left are all gung ho for, right up there with hate crime laws, and while i have not personally witnessed any prosecutions for them, they are so prone to abuse.
1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:

(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;

(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or

(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.

(2) Cyberstalking is a gross misdemeanor, except as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
2.15.2009 11:57pm
Fub:
whit wrote at 2.15.2009 11:57pm:
however, look at the text of RCW 9.61.260 and tell me if it doesn't SCREAM to you - overbroad kneejerk legislation, and definitely has 1st amendment issues.

...

1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:

(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;

(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or

(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.

(2) Cyberstalking is a gross misdemeanor, except as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
So, having a salty email conversation with anybody about how Councilman Snort should be embarrassed for behaving like a jackass at the last city council meeting, constitutes "cyberstalking".
2.16.2009 11:19am
NickM (mail) (www):
Richard Aubrey - these were juvenile proceedings, which were closed to the public. They didn't get to watch the incredible - at most, they got to hear reports from people who were there - and parents whose children have just been sent to juvenile facilities aren't exactly disinterested witnesses known for accurate and honest reports.

Nick
2.16.2009 2:26pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Nick.
I was a parent, too. Eventually, an interested parent, including one whose kids aren't in trouble, gets the point.
And, given the last few years, a "closed" proceeding is one about which nobody was particularly curious.
2.16.2009 3:25pm
Wahoowa:
My wife and I recently obtained a copy of HBO's John Adams miniseries. In watching the first episode, I mentioned that sometimes I wished tarring &feathering was still acceptable behavior. My wife expressed utter disgust with my sentiments. But reading this story makes me wish it again, all the same.
2.17.2009 12:40pm

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