The way a society protects and treats its children says volumes about that society. When corruption is allowed to rule unchallenged, the effects can be far worse than just the sum of the acts committed. Society as a whole must be aware that injustices committed have a ripple effect and always come back to harm that society tenfold. August of 2011 brought a close to a very dark chapter in criminal justice when disgraced judges Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan were convicted in Federal court of essentially running the local court system as a racketeering enterprise. Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years and ordered to pay $1.17 million in restitution for his crimes, which included accepting (along with Conahan) $2.8 million in kickbacks from the owner of two privately run juvenile detention facilities. But accepting money under the table isn't the worst thing he did. That's just what allowed him to be prosecuted.
Office Space Redux: Meet the Bobs
Robert Powell was an attorney and power broker in Luzerne County and co-owner of the facilities and Robert Mericle was the developer. The money came to Ciavarella as a kind of 'referral bonus' for the kids sent to stay there for however long their sentence provided. Unfortunately for them, the longer the sentence, the more money the scheme made and the higher the kickbacks became. Ciavarella and Conahan agreed to shut down the county facility, which would have competed with Robert Powell's bottom line. With no local competition, Powell was receiving funds to compensate for each juvenile his and Robert Mericle's institutions housed. For each teenager Ciavarella sentenced to these institutions, he received money from Powell. During the trial,Powell (who ended up serving 18 months himself) testified that Ciavarella kept detailed records in terms of the number of juveniles sentenced to the facilities, as well as how much money he was making from Powell as a result. Court documents state that Ciavarella allegedly told Powell, "...so its not about me sending kids anymore. I know how much you're making, and it's time to step up."
The story began to break back in 2007 following a call from a very upset parent regarding irregularities and disparities in Luzerne County's Juvenile Court. Research found that hundreds of kids had appeared without counsel in front of Judge Ciavarella and were quickly found guilty and sent to live at one of the facilities involved. Most of the offenses in question were quite minor, but this had no relevance in the sentencing. Once the US Attorney became aware of the situation and came to allege that Ciavarella had accepted bribes, more intense investigation revealed that between 2003-2008, over 50% of the children appearing before Ciavarella lacked counsel and 60% of these children were removed from their homes. The scandal ultimately touched the lives of more than 2500 children and over 6000 cases. In 2009, as a result of the scandal, the PA Supreme Court vacated the adjudications of all youth who had appeared in front of Ciavarella between the time in question and had their cases dismissed with prejudice and records expunged.
The Plea and Trial, or