Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let Us Now Praise

Once in a while, the courts just do something bold. They see a real problem and they decide to fix it. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, we really ought to sit up and take notice.

The ranting public defender, S, over at Preaching to the Choir, has been following the story of the corrupt juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County Court (here, here, and here). You know, the ones who took the bribes and kickbacks, and thereby made millions, for depriving kids of fair hearings and counsel and then sending them off to juvenile detention centers for the most trivial of offenses. Tonight she has the latest news, and good news it is.

In an extraordinary 9 page opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, vacated, dismissed, and sealed the records of, quite literally, thousands of juvenile convictions from a more than five-year period. The state urged the court to remand so that case by case determinations could be made. The court said, and said emphatically, that it would not do that.
[Judge] Ciavarella’s admission that he received these payments, and that he failed to disclose his financial interests arising from the development of the juvenile facilities, thoroughly undermines the integrity of all juvenile proceedings before Ciavarella. Whether or not a juvenile was represented by counsel, and whether or not a juvenile was committed to one of the facilities which secretly funneled money to Ciavarella and Conahan, this Court cannot have any confidence that Ciavarella decided any Luzerne County juvenile case fairly and impartially while he labored under the
specter of his self-interested dealings with the facilities.

In short, there is ample support in the materials properly before us to assess the bases cited by Judge Grim for his finding that all juvenile adjudications and consent
decrees entered by Ciavarella between January 1, 2003 and May 31, 2008, are tainted. Accordingly, we DENY the Commonwealth’s request to remand.
That's language you don't see very often. Then again, you don't see a case like this too often.

What's striking, of course, is that the court not only did the right thing, it did it forcefully and gloriously. You can't trust anything a corrupt judge did, the court said, so none of it counts. And since the kids were already abused, we're just going to let them all (actually, it's nearly all) off the hook. Enough.



  1. I wholeheartedly concur. I tend to paint my criticism of the government with pretty broad strokes, as it's part and parcel of de-mystifying the State in favor of reality. This doesn't change the fact that there is such a thing as good judge, even in the government, and that a court sometimes does justice and sometimes does so boldly and gloriously, and should be honored when it does.

  2. I was having a pretty rough there-is-no-justice, courts-suck kind of day until I saw this news around 4:30. Boy, did my day pick up.

    (BTW, you can use my actual name. The "S" isn't some attempt at anonymity; it's just how I have always signed my e-mails.)

  3. Perhaps I'll make it S___________ [may I use the last initial, too?] as in old epistolary novels. Lends a certain air of mystery to you.