Thursday, October 15, 2009

Probe Begins Into Juvenile Court Scandal

A Commission charged with investigating the Luzerne County judicial corruption scandal has begun its work. The Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice will spend the coming months digging into the Luzerne County scandal, where two judges received millions of dollars in kickbacks for shuffling juvenile offenders off to private detention centers.
Luzene County President Judge Chester Muroski testified before the Commission in Harrisburg. Muroski, who first passed along suspicions to the FBI in 2005, says no one in the county had any idea Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were being paid to put children in custody.

"So absent the labyrinth that has been discovered by the IRS, FBI, whoever did all that—the only thing we know was some of this stuff that was going down in the courtroom. We didn’t know anything about money, we didn’t know anything about finder’s fees."

Luzerne County Senator Lisa Baker, a Republican, says she understands that some people may be skeptical the commission will get anything done, but insists there are important questions members can answer.

"Addressing the Unified Judicial System. Do they have the capacity to really watch out over all of our courthouses? Do we have a state bureaucracy in place that is looking at the data—finding those warning flags? Were people intimidated within the system?"

Baker is in favor of compensating juveniles who were unfairly sent to detention centers.

"As you look at getting time back, some of these kids lost the ability to go to college, or the ability to train for a job. And they could be harmed for the long run. So are there things and mechanisms that we can create to undo some of the wrong that has been done to these children?"

The Commission will hold two hearings in Wilkes-Barre next month. Their final report is due in the spring.

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