Constitutional Law

Suspended Pa. Judge Changed Other Judges' Sentences, His Successor Says

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A suspended judge who formerly served as the president judge of Luzerne County had been changing sentences for some convicted felons, often without the knowledge of the judges who originally imposed the sentences, his successor says.

“Former Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. bypassed the rest of the county’s judges by ordering defendants they had sent to prison to halfway houses and other early release programs without the other judge’s knowledge, new President Judge Chester B. Muroski said Wednesday,” reports the Citizens Voice.

In an order (PDF) yesterday, Muroski has ended the practice by requiring, from this point forward, that such decision-making be put in the hands of the original sentencing judge. While it may well be appropriate for a defendant to be sent to an early release program, the proper person to make that decision is the judge who is familiar with the case, he tells the newspaper.

If the sentencing judge is no longer on the bench or otherwise unavailable, the court administrator’s office will assign such cases to new judges on a rotating basis, according to the order.

As discussed in earlier posts, Ciavarella and another suspended senior judge in Luzerne County have reportedly agreed to plea bargains involving prison time after being accused of accepting some $2.6 million in kickbacks concerning their decisions to jail juveniles.

Additional coverage: “Luzerne County, Pa., Court Shakeup Expands Exponentially”

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader: “Order could lead to probation fix”

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