Years after he took money to send them to privately run juvenile detention centers, a former Luzerne County Court judge must now pay former detainees back for violating their civil rights, a federal judge in Wilkes-Barre has ruled.
In an opinion released Thursday, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo cleared the way for about 2,500 plaintiffs to collect damages from Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., one of two former judges convicted in the "kids for cash" corruption scandal.
How much Ciavarella will owe will be determined later, Caputo said.
Ciavarella was sentenced in 2011 to 28 years in prison for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from the builder and co-owner of two Northeastern Pennsylvania private prisons.
In exchange, he backed county contracts with the facilities and increased their inmate counts by imposing harsh sentences on children, some as young as 10, who came before his court.
The state Supreme Court threw out thousands of his convictions, saying the justices had no confidence they were decided fairly, given Ciavarella's criminal conduct.
Since then, several of the former detainees have sued him and other members of the conspiracy.
In his ruling Thursday, Caputo ruled that judges "no matter how corrupt" are protected by judicial immunity for all decisions made from the bench. But actions Ciavarella took outside court, including closing the county's government-run detention center and instituting a zero-tolerance policy believed to have sent hundreds of teens to lockup for alleged parole violations, left him open to the suits, he decided.
Ciavarella, who remains in a federal prison in Illinois, did not dispute that argument before Caputo's ruling. His attorneys did not return calls for comment Friday.
"We're happy to see that there's some further closure and that Judge Caputo has found Judge Ciavarella liable for his actions," said David S. Senoff, a Philadelphia lawyer representing several of the juvenile plaintiffs.
Suits against other members of the "kids for cash" conspiracy have largely favored the plaintiffs.
The two private detention centers at the center of the scandal, PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, recently agreed to settle for $2.5 million.
In 2011, Robert K. Mericle, their builder, offered to pay $17.75 million to settle claims against him.
A federal court has also found Michael T. Conahan, another Luzerne County judge serving more than 17 years in prison for his role in the scandal, liable for yet-to-be-determined damages.
Senoff said Friday his clients would continue to pursue civil claims against Robert Powell, the former co-owner of the detention facilities.