Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Blog posts May 2010

After months of work, the INTERBRANCH COMMISSION ON JUVENILE JUSTICE did what commissions do: It issued a sternly-worded report with various and sundry recommendations that may or may not lead to any actual changes.

State lawmakers authorized the commission to look into what went wrong with the juvenile justice system in Luzerne County, which is now known around the world as the home of the so-called "kids for cash" scandal starring former judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella.

My station sent a reporter to Harrisburg yesterday when the Commission released its FINAL REPORT (you can read the news release HERE; it includes the word "Dickensian"). The main conclusions seem to be that a) most of the blame falls on Ciavarella; b) nobody did anything to stop him; and c) Pennsylvania's juvenile court system is pretty good, but Luzerne County has single-handedly ruined it for everyone else.

The report contains several RECOMMENDATIONS to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, at least not in Pennsylvania. Many of the recommendations involve reviewing, revising or reinforcing procedures and systems that were already in place to, you know, prevent this kind of thing. But, in case the people in the juvenile court system don't know that it's wrong to (allegedly) send kids to detention centers in exchange for kickbacks, these recommendations, once enacted, should make it really, really clear.

I guess my overall feeling about the whole report is one of "That's it?" When I looked over the reporter's script yesterday, I felt that there should have been more. I can't say that more was available. None of the affected juveniles or their parents was at the news conference; neither was anyone from the JUVENILE LAW CENTER, which did a lot of work to expose what was happening. After months and months of coverage, it all just felt rather anticlimactic.

At least there's (as of now) Conahan's official guilty plea and (as of now) Ciavarella's trial to look forward to.

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Primary Breakdown

Thank goodness that's over! Pennsylvania Primary 2010 certainly turned into a busy one - lots of contested races, lots of candidates, and lots of national attention!

Of course, the race that got the most attention featured upstart Congressman Joe Sestak defeating Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter. Sestak will now face former GOP congressman Pat Toomey in the fall.

As a registered independent, I couldn't vote in this primary. But, I have to admit, I was secretly rooting for Specter. I suppose it dates back to 1984 or so, when I was in my first year of college and Specter was in his first term in the Senate. My RA gathered everyone on the floor and asked us to write letters to politicians asking them to support funding for higher education (student loans, I believe). My letter went to Specter. In return, I received a letter from him in which he promised to fight for whatever cause I had asked him to fight for. Undoubtedly, it was some kind of form letter, probably written by a staffer, but it came from his office and my 18-year-old self was impressed.

So, thanks for that, Arlen. Now it's time to spend more time with your family.

The Specter-Sestak race made planning election coverage challenging. About a week before Election Day, Specter's people announced that his gathering would be held at a hotel in center city Philadelphia. That means lots of tall buildings and very few parking spaces. Basically, it's a nightmare for any station (i.e. us and just about every other station in PA) planning to send a satellite truck. We sent one anyway, but ended up hooking up with a CNN truck for coverage after the polls closed. So, Specter's camp gave us more advance notice but promised more of a headache on Election Day.

Sestak's people were just the opposite. After peppering the station with emails and phone calls in the months and weeks leading up to the election, they were very last-minute about their plans for Election Day. I started making phone calls in the week before the election, and the best his people could tell me was that Sestak would be "somewhere in Delaware County." I left work on Friday still not having heard anything definite. They finally put out an email on Saturday (which I got Monday). They chose Valley Forge Military Academy which, despite the late notification, actually worked out pretty well in terms of accommodating a large satellite truck. So, Sestak's people gave us less advance notice but less of a headache on the big day. Hopefully, he'll go back there (or someplace similar) in November.

Outside of the US Senate race, the bulk of our coverage was spent on races for the PA Senate, where two long-time senators are retiring, and for the PA House (which also had several open and/or contested seats). The logistics here were challenging for several reasons: the unusual number of contested races for a primary; one race had six candidates; the general lack of polling data. So, deciding which races to cover and where to send crews was often an educated guess at best.

Generally, I think we did pretty well in getting crews where they needed to be, although it was certainly confusing at times behind the scenes. The only one I wasn't prepared for was in the 83rd PA House District, which takes in the Williamsport area. Democratic incumbent Rick Mirabito was unopposed. But, on the GOP side, former Williamsport mayor and former state rep Steve Cappelli, was making an effort to win back his old seat. His opponent was Dave Huffman, who lost to Mirabito in 2008, when Mirabito won the seat which Cappelli vacated to run for state senate (a race which he, Cappelli, lost in the primary). Follow?

Anyway, I hadn't seen any official polling, but I figured that Cappelli, with his name recognition, would not have much of a problem getting through to November. When I started calling around to find out where candidates were going to be, I had a tough time contacting Huffman directly and didn't pursue it very hard because there was a lot of other stuff going on and he probably wasn't going to win anyway, right? Wrong! As the results came in, Cappelli, had an early lead, but Huffman ended up winning by about 180 votes. I had some other contact numbers for Huffman from two years ago that I was able to give my reporter and we did manage to catch up with him. But, wow, what a surprise! Even the LOCAL NEWSPAPER and, apparently, the candidates themselves thought so.

What surprises will November bring? Will the third time be the charm for Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta to defeat Rep. Paul Kanjorski in the 11th Congressional District? Can former DA and former federal prosecutor Tom Marino recapture the 10th Congressional District for the Republicans or will voters send Democrat Chris Carney back to Washington for a third term? Can Sestak beat Toomey? It should be exciting.

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