Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Kids for Cash?

As I have noted before on this blog, when Northeast PA makes national news, it's almost never for something positive. A couple years ago, we - well, Pennsylvania - made the LEAD on ABC's World News when drivers were stranded on Interstate 78 in Berks County. That incident occurred around the time of the Valentine's Day Storm, when I-81 in NEPA was shut down for the better part of 24 hours.

Of late, NEPA has made national and international news for two reasons. One is the "sexting" scandal in Wyoming County. The DA is now being sued by the ACLU because he gave kids an option of taking an educational course or facing criminal charges. The ACLU sees it more as a threat: take the class or face the charges. A tech-oriented publication in the UK printed THIS article in which it comes down squarely on the side of the ACLU.

The other - and more notorious - reason is the so-called "Cash for Kids" scandal in Luzerne County. Two (now former) judges stand accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for sending juvenile offenders to a privately-run detention center. (Former) judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan have pleaded guilty to federal charges and face seven years in prison. However, Ciavarella denies any direct "cash for kids" connection.

The New York Times has published several articles concerning the case. The most recent ARTICLE came today, and detailed how the judges managed to block various efforts to put a stop to what some people suspected was going on.

That article came on the heels of a report on ABC's 20/20 which focused largely on the speed at which Ciavarella sentenced the juveniles who came before him. The juveniles interviewed for the program said they were in the courtroom for only a few minutes at best, often had no legal representation, had practically no opportunity to speak, and were immediately hauled off to the detention center.

What struck me most about the 20/20 report (PART 1 & PART 2) was the language. The reporter used phrases including "diabolical plan," "rapid-fire justice," "absurdly swift justice," and said that the judges padded "their pockets on the backs of children."

Perhaps the most dramatic language came from a woman with the Juvenile Law Center, which is working with many of the families involved in the case. She called the events taking place in Luzerne County "probably the most egregious abuse of power in the American legal system." My love of the word "egregious" notwithstanding, that's a pretty powerful statement. It says, in essence, that Ciavarella and Conahan are/were the crookedest judges in the history of American judging.

Wow! And it ain't over yet.

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