Indicted Pa. Jurists Now a Case for Reduced Judicial Immunity
Posted Nov 12, 2009 4:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
Since 1872, the U.S. Supreme Court has held the line on judicial immunity, essentially ruling that jurists should be protected from civil litigation over their decisions on the bench no matter how wrong they might be.
But a pair of former Pennsylvania judges facing federal corruption charges in the so-called kids-for-cash case is providing the basis for a new challenge to that privilege, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Plaintiffs in several tort claims, among other arguments, contend Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were acting in an administrative rather than a judicial capacity during many of the controversial decisions that they made, the newspaper reports. The two, who formerly were senior judges on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, are accused of taking bribes in exchange for jailing juveniles in a privately owned detention facility.
If a judge agrees with the administrative argument, this could be a basis for significant tort damages, since judicial immunity is absolute only concerning judicial duties.
As detailed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, some 6,000 juvenile convictions by Ciavarella have been reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court following the revelation of the judges' alleged wrongdoing.
And, even though the plaintiffs are less likely to win an argument that judicial immunity doesn't apply to Ciavarella and Conahan concerning their judicial duties, some say a narrowing of the privilege should be considered.
"Absolute immunity should fall away when judges engage in this type of egregious and intentional behavior that causes serious harm," professor Jeffrey Shaman of DePaul University College of Law tells the newspaper.
ABAJournal.com: "Did Top Texas Judge’s Testimony Open Door to Wrongful Death Suit?"
ABAJournal.com: "Top Pa. Court Vacates 6,000+ Juvenile Rulings By Ex-Luzerne County Judge"
ABAJournal.com: "Top Pa. Court Axes $3.5M Libel Verdict Due to ‘Judicial Impropriety’ "
WNEP-TV: "Attorneys for Ciavarella, Conahan Prepare Cases"