WILKES-BARRE - Pennsylvania's top court administrator yesterday admitted that there was a breakdown in the state's oversight of a northeastern Pennsylvania judge who is accused of accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks to stick juvenile offenders in privately owned detention centers.
Testifying before a panel investigating the "kids for cash" scandal, Court Administrator Zygmont A. Pines said that data collected by a state agency indicated that large numbers of juvenile offenders had appeared before former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. without an attorney.
But he said that the statistics collected by the Juvenile Court Judges Commission were never passed to the state Supreme Court. He also blamed judges and attorneys in Luzerne County, saying that they never raised concerns about Ciavarella or another former Luzerne County judge facing corruption charges.
Pines said that his office, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, received no letters from residents about Ciavarella and former Judge Michael Conahan and "obviously you cannot rectify a situation you are not made aware of." Both judges are charged with racketeering. They have pleaded not guilty and await trial.
Starting in 2004, news reports indicated that there were problems in Ciavarella's courtroom, as did a state appeals-court case from 2001. Also, the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center complained for years that Ciavarella was overly harsh and deprived youths of their constitutional rights.
Ciavarella sent one in four of his convicted juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10, according to the state data.
After the judges were charged, the Juvenile Law Center got the Supreme Court last year to throw out thousands of cases heard by Ciavarella, citing evidence that juveniles were being sent to detention without benefit of lawyers.
The Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice is examining what happened.
On Monday, parents and juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella told the commission of callous mistreatment at his hands.
The parents of a 15-year-old girl who had been convicted of simple assault and later showed up to school drunk said they were certain that Ciavarella would have sympathy when he learned that she had been raped and was suffering from emotional problems as a result.
Instead, the mother testified, Ciavarella "said, 'It doesn't matter. She has to pay for what she did. Do not mention that in my courtroom.' "
The teen spent months in detention, and came out even angrier and more distrustful.
"She doesn't trust me any more," the mother said. "She doesn't trust doctors. She won't go to counseling."
"Our family just fell apart," said the teen's father. "When Ciavarella took my kid, he released a monster. She blames us for putting her there."