mark ciavarella, pennsylvania corrupt judge, ciavarella bribes
AP/David Kidwell
Mark Ciavarella, a Pa. judge accused of
accepting bribes for making convictions,
leaves a Pa. courthouse. 

Disillusioned Pennsylvania Voters Prepare to Replace Corrupt Judges

May 19, 2009 10:30 AM
by Kate Davey
After two judges took kickbacks to send juvenile offenders to private detention centers, candidates for all the state's court vacancies are having a hard time earning voters’ trust.

“They Think All Judges Are Corrupt”

Today, Pennsylvania voters will vote to fill several open spots in the court system, including replacements for two judges from Luzerne County who were charged in January with taking $2.6 million in bribes to fill private juvenile detention centers. Several of those convicted juveniles were first-time offenders who would normally have gotten off with a warning. Candidates for the various judicial positions must confront the anger of voters who feel betrayed by their public servants.

As Michael Blazick, a candidate to replace one of the ousted judges on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, explains to the Los Angeles Times: “the absolutely overpowering message is they've completely lost trust … There’s been a meltdown in the public's confidence in the judicial system.” Blazick adds that he doesn’t fault the public for feeling this way.

Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen, who is seeking election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We have to restore the tarnished image the court has acquired over the last few years.”

The Los Angeles Times explains it’s not just the kickback judges that have citizens concerned; a top Luzerne County court official also embezzled tens of thousands of dollars and charges are pending against Luzerne County school officials for corrupt hiring practices.

According to The Citizens’ Voice, the latter scandal has led to the resignation of Pittston Area School District Superintendent Ross A. Scarantino, who is accused of taking bribes “influencing the awarding of school district contracts.”

Background: Pa. judges take bribes from juvenile detention centers

As findingDulcinea reported in February, Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan received kickbacks from private detention centers. Judge Conahan was instrumental in closing public county-run detention centers in 2002, making it easier to deal with private detention centers.

The high number of incarcerations, the number of underage offenders without legal representation at their hearing and the excessive nature of the punishments handed out raised suspicions among local government officials that something was not right.

According to The Times Leader, Judge Mark Ciavarella’s unethical behavior allegedly extends beyond simply receiving the kickbacks. An attorney has filed a petition to review Ciavarella’s ruling concerning a land dispute with a bank. Attorney Martin J. Karess claims that the judge was biased in favor of the bank, which gave Ciavarella and Conahan a loan to buy a condo that they allegedly used to launder some of their bribe money.

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