The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will give a judge the discretion to overturn the cases of as many as 1,200 juveniles sentenced by a judge who admitted taking payments from detention centers to which he sentenced some of them, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Calling the unanimous order a first step toward restoring public confidence in the justice system, the high court said it applies to first-time offenders convicted of minor crimes who appeared without counsel before Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. between 2003 and 2008.
“Today’s order is not intended to be a quick fix,” Chief Justice Ronald Castille said. “It’s going to take some time, but the Supreme Court is committed to righting whatever wrong was perpetrated on Luzerne’s juveniles and their families.” In a report, Berks County Senior Judge Arthur Grim said an investigation uncovered “routine deprivation of children’s constitutional rights to appear before an impartial tribunal and have an opportunity to be heard.” The court appointed Grim to review the cases of about 2,500 juveniles Ciavarella sentenced. About half of those cases could be affected by the court’s order. Children who got into trouble later and were adjudicated delinquent for another offense are not subject to the ruling. Ciavarella and another former Luzerne County judge, Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty to taking $2.6 million in secret payments from the former owner of two juvenile detention centers.