Juvenile Justice

Luzerne County, Pa., Court Shakeup Expands Exponentially

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After news that two now-suspended senior Luzerne County judges have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges, Pennsylvania state lawmakers plan to discuss possible compensation for juveniles that the two judges are accused of sending to detention facilities in exchange for monetary kickbacks.

“Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court has agreed to review all juvenile cases adjudicated in Luzerne County during in the last five years,” reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And that’s not all: The county’s remaining judges have agreed, en banc, to launch a review of all appointments and decisions made over the past seven years by the two suspended jurists, reports the Citizens Voice. They are Mark Ciavarella Jr., 58, who until recently was Luzerne County’s president judge, and Michael Conahan, 56.

“The jobs of every department head and supervisor hired by the two disgraced judges hang in the balance, according to a press release (PDF) issued Tuesday by new President Judge Chester B. Muroski,” the newspaper writes.

Additionally, the judges plan to replace two members of the county prison board who were appointed by Ciavarella and Conahan, “review every order Conahan made in his last 60 days in office” and “reverse a costly new system Ciavarella instituted for paying lawyers to represent defendants who can’t use public defenders,” among other action, the article continues.

A planned legislative hearing on possible compensation and the case and court reviews will be conducted in the wake of startling news developments.

They include not only news last week that the county’s suspended former president judge and a suspended senior judge have agreed to pleas involving prison time for allegedly accepting some $2.6 million in kickbacks but news yesterday that the court administrator, 57-year-old William Sharkey Sr., 57, has agreed to a plea for allegedly embezzling more than $70,000 in illegal gambling proceeds seized by authorities between 1998 and 2008, according to the Post-Gazette article.

The deal calls for Sharkey to pay $71,000 and resign within 10 days of entering a plea, the newspaper says. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The juvenile detention facilities at issue in the kickbacks case were owned by Pittsburgh businessman Greg Zappala, who has not been charged, the Post-Gazette reports. He is the brother of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. and the son of former state supreme court Justice Stephen Zappala Sr.

Further court proceedings for the two judges are scheduled Feb. 12.

Additional coverage:

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader: “Prothonotary Moran mum about resignation reports, link to judges”

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Pa. high court intervenes in Luzerne County case”

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