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Legal Ethics

Opening Statements Loom in ‘Kids-for-Cash’ Trial of Former Luzerne, Pa., President Judge

Posted Feb 7, 2011 7:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Even though she is 23 and married, Daniella Ormsby cried when she recalled the nine months she spent in a juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania as punishment for missing a court hearing.

While she has completed her general equivalency degree and is living with her husband and their two children in Florida, she feels the judge who sentenced her, Mark Ciavarella Jr., stole her high school years, reports the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Now, however, the 60-year-old Ciavarella—along with another Luzerne County judge—is about to face trial for allegedly pocketing $2.8 million in exchange for sending a steady stream of youths to two for-profit residential facilities. A jury has been selected, and opening statements are expected to begin tomorrow in the case, which is being tried in federal district court in Scranton.

An article in the Times Leader details the 39 charges Ciavarella faces, which include racketeering, conspiracy, bribery and money-laundering.

Ciavarella's alleged judical cohort, senior judge Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty to a single count of racketeering conspiracy and has not yet been sentenced, notes the Associated Press.

Ciavarella was the president judge of Luzerne County at the time of the alleged crimes.

An attorney, Robert Powell, who co-owned one of the two juvenile facilities wore a wire to help build the case and pleaded guilty to abetting a conspiracy and failing to report a felony, recounts the Citizens Voice.

Aside from the corruption charges, critics, including a judge appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the situation, say many of the teens didn't need to be locked up and weren't given a fair chance to defend themselves. Thousands of their convictions reportedly are being reversed, but lives were needlessly scarred just the same, those affected and their families say.

"It's like sweet revenge. It really is," Ormsby tells the Times-Tribune when asked how she feels about Ciavarella's trial. "I hope it comes down to him trying to file an appeal and keep getting denied. I hope and pray everything he did, it comes back to him 20 times harder. That's the only justice he can get."

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Kids-for-Cash Scandal Sparks Report Urging Sweeping Juvie Court Changes"

ABAJournal.com: "Powell Law Firm Dropped as Defendant in Kids-for-Cash Case"

ABAJournal.com: "Top Pa. Court Axes $3.5M Libel Verdict Due to ‘Judicial Impropriety’"

Times Leader: "Mericle to testify about gifts"

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