AP NEWS

Ciavarella Conviction Reversals Upheld

March 30, 2019

A federal appeals court panel on Friday agreed the most serious charges that disgraced former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of should be overturned.

Three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for The Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision from last year that granted Ciavarella a new trial on three of the 12 charges he was convicted of at trial — racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Both Ciavarella and the U.S. Attorneys Office appealed that lower court’s ruling. The government wanted the charges restored, while Ciavarella wanted even more charges reversed.

In the end, the appeals court fully affirmed the January 2018 decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner that vacated three convictions. The judge sided with Ciavarella’s argument that his attorneys failed to raise a statute of limitations argument to the charges at trial.

In February 2011, a jury convicted Ciavarella of 12 of 39 charges for accepting kickbacks in exchange for funneling juvenile defendants to for-profit detention centers, a scheme the appeals court called “the infamous ‘kids-for-cash’ scandal.”

The appeals court didn’t grant Ciavarella a new trial based on a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about what constitutes an “official act” as a public official. Ciavarella argued his alleged illegal activity — setting up a meeting with other conspirators and later accepting payments — occurred outside of his role as judge.

 

“If sentencing hundreds of juvenile offenders to excessive terms of incarceration is not an ‘official act,’ then nothing is,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion.

Dawn Clark, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office, said Friday’s ruling “is still under review by our office.”

Efforts to reach Ciavarella’s appeals attorney, Jennifer Wilson of Duncannon, were unsuccessful

Ciavarella and another former judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting $2.8 million in kickbacks in exchange for funneling hundreds of juvenile defendants to for-profit detention centers built by wealthy developer Robert K. Mericle’s construction firm and operated by companies controlled by former local attorney Robert Powell.

Ciavarella, 69, is serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison, currently at Federal Correctional Institution-Ashland in Kentucky. His expected release date is Dec. 30, 2035, but that could change following a new trial on the three charges that were reversed.

Conahan, 66, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges, is now serving 17½ years at Federal Correctional Institution, Miami. His expected release date is Dec. 18, 2026.

Both would have been out of prison by now if a federal judge did not reject a plea agreement they reached with federal prosecutors in January 2009 that called on them to serve 87 months in prison.

Contact the writer:

bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2055, @cvbobkal