Juvenile Law Center Responds to Guilty Verdict for Former Luzerne County Judge

Juvenile Law Center,

Today’s guilty verdict is but one more step in the quest to secure justice for the children and families in Luzerne County.

“Mark Ciavarella had his day in court,” said Robert Schwartz, Juvenile Law Center’s Executive Director. “The children and families of Luzerne County have seen today that the rule of law matters, and that even a person who has worn a judge’s robe must pay the piper.”

What transpired in Mark Ciavarella’s courtroom has been recognized worldwide as the most egregious judicial scandal in U.S. history, jarring our trust in the courts and scarring the lives of thousands of children. “The breadth and depth of the corruption, criminality and disregard of children’s most fundamental constitutional rights is staggering,” said Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Counsel at Juvenile Law Center.

It has been more than three years since Juvenile Law Center filed its King’s Bench petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking for intervention. Today, after enjoying two years of due process, access to expert counsel, and all the rights afforded by the Constitution in a court of law, Mark Ciavarella has been found guilty.

The irony is not lost on the youth and families whose civil rights were trampled, and this verdict is bittersweet. Mark Ciavarella’s actions crushed the dreams of so many families. In some heartbreaking cases, the opportunity to heal ended before it could even begin – at least two families were destroyed by suicide. The trajectory of these children’s lives has been forever altered.

Juvenile Law Center hopes that the full impact of Mark Ciavarella’s actions will become painfully clear when he is sentenced. His victims will finally have an opportunity to speak, a right he routinely denied so many of them in his courtroom.

This guilty conviction follows the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2009 vacatur and expungement of the delinquency adjudications of all of the children who were victims of Ciavarella’s judicial misconduct.

The final step to justice for Luzerne County’s families will come at the conclusion of the federal civil rights case against Ciavarella, Conahan and their co-conspirators.

Preventing it from re-occurring elsewhere in the state is another matter. More than two years after the criminal conspiracy came to light, no reforms have been finalized to protect the Constitutional rights of Pennsylvania’s children. Juvenile Law Center made recommendations for reform in early 2010 and the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice issued recommendations last May.

Juvenile Law Center will continue to work closely with policymakers, lawmakers and other juvenile justice and court officials to make sure that what happened to the children and families of Luzerne County is never again repeated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

For the history of the "kids-for-cash" scandal, visit our Luzerne page.

Juvenile Law Center is the oldest national, non-profit, public interest law firm to advance and protect the rights and well-being of children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Juvenile Law Center is also a resource for other legal advocacy groups across the nation.