The Philadelphia Inquirer takes a close look at the juvenile court scandal in Luzerne County, Penn. In what authorities call one of the worst judicial scandals in Pennsylvania history, Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Michael T. Conahan pleaded guilty last month to sentencing youths to secure detention facilities from which they received $2.6 million in kickbacks. After their guilty pleas, the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of 70 families, alleging Ciavarella and Conahan violated the rights of young offenders in ways that went beyond the kickback scheme.
In “a wave of unprecedented lawlessness,” the suit says, the judges failed to advise youths of their right to counsel, accepted their guilty pleas without explaining what they had been charged with, and garnisheed the wages of their parents to pay the costs of detention. The Juvenile Law Center estimates that between 2003 and 2008, as many as 2,500 Luzerne County juveniles may have been affected by Ciavarella’s rulings. In a two-year window examined by the Juvenile Law Center, more than half of those defendants had no attorney.