The commission created to investigate Luzerne County’s “cash for kids” judicial scandal says the county experienced “a collapse of the rule of law,” and that everyone from judges to lawyers to the general community shares part of the blame.
The Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice’s final report says what happened in Luzerne County, where two judges allegedly shuffled juvenile offenders into privately-held detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in kickbacks, was an isolated incident.
Chairman John Cleland says no one including defense attorneys, prosecutors, police or probation officers stepped up to challenge or report what Judges Mark Ciavarella or Michael Conahan were doing.
"Now in other counties, there might be a breakdown in one or maybe two aspects of that. And the others would come into play and the system would right and balance itself. But it is astonishing to all of us, I think, the total collapse that we witnessed."
Cleland says some of the details were shocking.
"You have a situation where you have a seven—an 11-year-old little boy who owes 488 dollar in fines and costs. And the judge says, can you pay it? And he says no. and the response is, put handcuffs and shackles on him and get him out of here and put him in detention. And nobody in the courtroom said a word."
The Commission issued 43 recommendations, including making it more difficult for juvenile defendants to waive their right to counsel, and creating a statewide office to help families of defendants appeal sentences.
The report says judges and lawyers should receive more ethics training, and face stiffer penalties for ethical violations.