WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – A special panel seeking ways to avoid a recurrence of the Luzerne County "cash-for-kids" judicial scandal clashed heatedly today with the state agency charged with investigating complaints against judges.
"The Judicial Conduct Board has repeatedly expressed its willingness to assist us," said Superior Court Judge John C. Cleland, chairman of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice. "At each turn, however, while we have been assured of the board's cooperation in principle, we have been denied the board's cooperation in practice."
Sitting directly across the table from Cleland in witness chairs at a hearing were two key judicial board officials - Edwin L. Klett, a board member, and Joseph Massa, the chief counsel.
While the two board members freely answered questions involving its routine policies and procedures, they declined to answer any specifics on the central focus of the commission's ongoing hearings: two former Luzerne County judges, Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella, who have been charged with taking $2.8 million in kickbacks from two private juvenile detention centers.
Each time commission members sought information about the two accused judges, the witnesses, who are both lawyers, were advised not to answer. "You are getting into matters that I believe are confidential under the Constitution," their lawyer, Paul H. Titus of Pittsburgh, told the commission.
At one point, Cleland told them: "One is tempted to conclude that your definition of confidentiality is a definition of convenience. It is a definition which, to be absolutely frank, does not inspire confidence in our system of judicial discipline."
The commission is seeking any information the judicial board has growing out of an anonymous complaint it received in September, 2006, containing numerous allegations about Conahan, including that he had ties to organized crime.