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February 13, 2009

State judges plead guilty to sending juves to jail for moolah

A number of readers have sent me various links to an incredible story from Pennsylvania.  The New York Times coverage in this article is headlined "Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit"; a local paper has this article headlined "Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash." Here is the basic story from the NYTimes:

Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003.  Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention....

If the court agrees to the plea agreement, both judges will serve 87 months in federal prison and resign from the bench and bar.  They are expected to be sentenced in the next several months. Lawyers for both men declined to comment.

Though I do not know the particulars of the plea agreement or all the facts surrounding the defendants' crimes, I think both offenders should consider themselves very lucky that federal prosecutors were willing to agree to a sentence of only about seven years of imprisonment.  Based on the apparent nature and scope and consequences of the judges' crimes here, I certainly could make a strong argument based in the 3553(a) factors that these defendants should be serving a MUCH longer sentence than the average low-level drug dealer or downloader of child porn.

This case, in my view, presents a particularly interesting set of issues with respect to the federal Crime Victims Rights Act.  I think all of the 5,000 juveniles sentenced by Judge Ciavarella (and perhaps also their parents) could reasonably seek to assert rights under the CVRA.  I wonder how many will seek to address the district court at sentencing.

February 13, 2009 at 09:02 AM | Permalink


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These guys deserve a very very very long sentence. And yes, more than a low-level drug dealer or freakshow downloading kiddie porn.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 13, 2009 10:44:15 AM

Birdsong is a law professor at Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. Birdsong believes the sentence of 87 months along with their removal from the bench and loss of their law licenses is just right. Birdsong believes that seven or so years in the big house will break their spirit. Sending juveniles to jail for profit is absolutely dispicable.

Posted by: birdsongslaw | Feb 13, 2009 12:21:44 PM

Do the innocent people get set free and in return sue?

Posted by: taxpayer | Feb 13, 2009 3:11:54 PM

Will these kids get their records expunged? I have grave concerns that many kids will have records (or strikes if you prefer) that will follow them in to adulthood should they come back in to contact with the justice system. Some of these kids will rightfully have been convicted, some will not have been. As someone who practices not far from where this happened I am gravely concerned that people accused of adult crimes will have their punishments unduly increased (and if the remedy is simply to expunge the juvie record unduly decreased in some instances).

What these judges did is inexcusable, 7 years, assuming strong proofs, is exceptionally too light considering the lives they have may have unnecessarily destroyed. Again, assuming strong proofs (and how often do the feds prosecute where they don't have strong proofs), this is a grave miscarriage of justice.

Posted by: ANON | Feb 13, 2009 3:38:46 PM

So if you are using USSG § 2C1.1 then the benchmark guideline range is likely:

14 - for being a public official
+ 2 - More than one bribe
+ 18 - More than $2,500,000 in kickbacks
+ 4 - public official in a high-level decision-making position
- 3 - Acceptance of responsibility

35 - Total offense level

168-210 Is the benchmark guideline range assuming a criminal history category of I. Yet these two judges are allowed to plead guilty and receive a binding plea agreement to 87 months.

Wow, in the district where I practice there is no way that the district judges would accept this plea agreement after seeing the PSR citing the reason that the agreement doesn't allow them to take into full consideration of the factors under 18 USC 3553(a).

Posted by: AFPD | Feb 13, 2009 4:10:09 PM

Student jailed for criticizing school official on MySpace?!

Last I heard, infringing freedom of speech while acting under color of law is a felony civil rights violation -- under the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act -- not absolutely sure; someone should check it out. This case reminds me of a school corporal punishment story I read in the Times about 20 years ago when the move was on to eliminate it in NY public schools. A teacher paddled a kid and, then, when the kid groaned when sitting down took him to the principal's office for a separate paddling for groaning. Clearly, the second paddling was an unprotected illegal assault which clearly should have been prosecuted and nobody (this was the Times!) seemed to catch on.

How anybody who went to law school (I didn't) in the United States could dream of prosecuting a student for publicly criticizing a government paid teacher (or anyone else) is past my imagining. You see these stories all the time with cops. You can say "oink, oink" to a passing cop (disclosure: I have five Irish grandparents counting my mother's stepmother and I live cops) and the cop may not even ID you (could he ID anyone found criticizing the mayor?): chilling effect. But, you read stories of people arrested for "talking back" to cops in the presumably First Amendment aware media and nobody seems to catch on. Cops may not even tell arrested persons to "shut up" -- they are not sentenced prisoners.

Myself, I wont rise for the judge -- you don't have to salute the flag: just a working stiff lawyer in a co-equally crackpot branch of government; color purple or black; her courtroom or her J.O.B.?

Just cannot get over how anyone in 2009 can be prosecuted for criticizing the government! ???

Posted by: Denis Drew | Feb 14, 2009 12:07:09 PM

I did not quite read this right. Did you say Pennsylvania or Transylvania? This case is of Nuremburg proportion. At Nuremburg, jurisdiction and prosecution was extended to civilians and non military officials who violated human rights. Some of it involved traffiking in human slaves for lucre. These two judges were not just taking nickles and dimes to fix tickets. They were trafficing in human lives and violated the victims most sacred rights of freedom, liberty and punishment. Many of them have been assaulted in prison by guards and other inmates.

As to the kids sent to "privately run juvenile detention centers" because their folks paid the bribes. Do not think that this is some walk in the park. One cannot leave and go home to mom and dad and little brothers-- its jail.

Every single person sentenced by those judges must have their sentences set aside. Today. All cases are suspect.

The liability in the civil rights lawsuits. which surely must begin soon, should not stop with the two judges. They worked for the state and the state should not have the defense of sovereign immunity. If there was insurance covering the judges, or the state, then the immunity will be waived. And of course judicial immunity in a Section 1983 case can not apply in a human rights case of this proportion. But beyond that, the State of Pennsylvania should compensate these crime victims. The State Legislature should start doing its duty and pass a bill on this case.

If Penn has a victims of crime compensation act, then that should be tapped. The families of these juveniles should be compensated as well.

As to the judges' respective sentences. Each person whom they sent to jail should be counted as an enhancement factor. Let us analgize this to a federal child porn case. After all, in a child porn case you get more time for each image of child porn. This case is certainly child abuse and in a way is child porn. On a child porn case the defendant gets hammered on the number of images of child porn possessed. Five thousand cases of kids sent to jail-- then five thousand months for each "transfer". That would be to both defendants. A little Clockwork Orange should be thrown in. At the prison in which these two judges are sent there should be a daily slide show at breakfast. This should be shown to all of the inmates. The slide show would be of the mug shot of each child that these perps sent to prison.

Further, if any of the children sent to prison have been raped in prison, then the perps who sent them to prison should be charged as accomplices.

We have child abuse hotlines in every state. We need a "judge abuse hotline" in Pennsylvania.

Doug and others should keep us informed on the developments.

Posted by: mpb | Feb 15, 2009 9:24:06 AM

People who are outraged should call their Congressmen and ask them to bend the ear of the DOJ.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 17, 2009 11:27:17 AM

Coming forward would create a paper trail of a juvenile conviction which would otherwise be expunged when the kids became adult. High profile sentencing hearings are reported on by the media, media reports end up on the Internet, and the Internet is forever. This incentive is probably one reason that the judges got away with it so long.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Feb 18, 2009 3:16:47 PM

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