(STL.News) – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that on August 24, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Christopher C. Conner upheld the 28-year sentence imposed in 2011 of the former President Judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, Mark A. Ciavarella, age 70, for accepting millions in bribes and kickbacks from the owner of privately held juvenile detention facility.
According to U.S. Attorney David J. Freed, Ciavarella was convicted after an 11-day jury trial in February 2011 and in August 2011, the late U.S. District Court Judge Edwin M. Kosik sentenced Ciavarella to 28 years’ imprisonment. Yesterday’s decision upheld that sentence.
After his conviction was affirmed on appeal, Ciavarella claimed that his trial attorneys were ineffective because they should have argued to the jury that some of the crimes he was convicted for were barred by the statute of limitations. The case was reassigned to U.S. District Court Judge Christopher C. Conner to decide if Ciavarella’s attorneys were ineffective.
Judge Conner found Ciavarella’s attorneys were ineffective and vacated certain counts of conviction, including the charges of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Ciavarella then claimed he was entitled to be resentenced on the remaining convictions.
Yesterday’s opinion by Judge Conner held that resentencing was not required and the original 28 year sentence would remain in place.
“This decision reinforces this office’s long standing commitment to bring justice to those victimized by these corrupt state judges,” said U.S. Attorney Freed. “They betrayed their community and deserve the substantial punishments they received.”
Ciavarella and his co-defendant, Michael Conahan, who also served as President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, were initially charged in January 2009. The charges were the result of a federal investigation of alleged corruption in the Luzerne County court system. The inquiry began in 2007 and expanded to include county government offices, state legislators, school districts and contractors in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Conahan pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in April 2010 and is serving a 17-year sentence. Conahan was recently released from federal custody to home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The judicial scandal, described as the worst in Pennsylvania’s history, and the federal prosecutions have had major consequences: Ciavarella and Conahan resigned from the bench in 2009. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated thousands of juvenile convictions in Luzerne County as a result of Ciavarella’s conduct as a Juvenile Court Judge. A State Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice recommended changes aimed at safeguarding the constitutional rights of juveniles and improving the oversight and disciplinary process for judges in Pennsylvania. In June 2011, a committee of the American Bar Association reviewed and made recommendations to improve procedures in the state’s Judicial Conduct Board. A procedure was established in Luzerne County for compensation of victims of the activities of Ciavarella and Conahan.