2 Pa. judges given partial immunity in civil suit

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two former county judges accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send juveniles to private detention facilities are partially immune from civil lawsuits, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Friday.

The decision by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo could make it harder for the people suing former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. to collect damages.

Caputo said Ciavarella will avoid civil consequences for “the vast majority” of his conduct, because much of it occurred inside a courtroom, such as determination of delinquency and sentencing.

He said Conahan largely would not be immune, because his alleged actions were more administrative in nature, such as signing a placement agreement with the detention centers.

The decisions have no bearing on the federal criminal charges that Ciavarella and Conahan are currently facing in what has become known as the kids-for-cash scandal.

Marsha Levick, a lawyer with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, a co-counsel for plaintiffs in the case, said Friday she did not consider the ruling to be a major setback. There are more than 400 named plaintiffs in the case, and lawyers are seeking class-action status.

“I think what’s important is the judges remained in the litigation,” Levick said. “Conahan is extremely vulnerable because most of what Conahan did with respect to the plaintiffs’ allegations, it was all outside the courtroom.”

She said the plaintiffs cannot appeal Caputo’s decision at this point in the proceedings, although Conahan or Ciavarella can if they want.

Both former judges are representing themselves in the lawsuit, and neither appeared to have a listed home phone number.

Caputo said the case involved principles of judicial independence that date back hundreds of years and are designed to protect judges who make sincere mistakes, uphold the reputation of the courts and meet the need for the court system to render final judgments.

“I am not unmindful of the egregious nature of the alleged conduct presented in this case,” Caputo wrote. “This is, however, about the rule of law. It is about the rule of law in the face of popular opinion which would seek a finding directly contrary to the result the rule of law dictates.”

At the heart of the lawsuit and criminal case are claims that Ciavarella routinely violated the legal rights of juvenile defendants in his courtroom as part of a conspiracy with Conahan and others to funnel them into privately run detention centers. Authorities say the judges received about $2.8 million in kickbacks as a result.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has voided thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella.

The two former judges pleaded guilty in February to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal with prosecutors that called for an 87-month sentence. But that plea bargain was voided in August when a federal judge decided the two were not accepting proper responsibility for their deeds.

Ciavarella and Conahan changed their pleas to not guilty, and were later indicted on racketeering charges. They await trial.



  1. This was a gross egregious act by two trusted servants of the judicial system. What is even worse is the young boy who killed himself. This really did not have so much to do with the 12 steps as it had to do with robbing kids of a choice, most of the kids did not even belong in a Treatment Center. With so many T/C’s being as abusive as they are and using training/behavioral methods that squelch any thoughts or initiation of actions on your own. These greedy selfish actions the two judges preformed harmed probably irreparably the emotions of the children traded for money.
    Not to say I don’t understand the point here but in comparison to the welfare of the children it measures the least. The community is not allowed in the T/C’s for meetings if children are residing there.


  2. JR- Im in and willing to contact some of these parents. Attend or contact the PTA in the HighSchool and I could tell them about our work, my initiative in California and how bad AA is.


  3. This is an extremely disturbing case of people using forced AA and NA attendance for thier own profit. In this case the 4000 child victims of judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. were illegally sent to Hazelden based 12 Step programs at PA Healthcare in Luzerne County. Hazelden based 12 Step programs are extremely religious and the forcing of them on vulnerable children should be harshly dealt with. The judges and many others made $2.8 million off of this scheme. They chose vulnerable children because thier criminal records and convictions are hidden from view and 12 Step programs which were started by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson cloak the programs in anonymity. The tragedy of courts sending innocent children to AA and NA type programs, where they are exposed to the influences of hardened criminals is shocking.

    A class action suit has been filed under CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:09-cv-286 in THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA with U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo. Four hundred people have joined in this lawsuit, two of them are the families of Edward Kenzakoski and Brandyn Robbins, who committed suicide after being subjected to this treatment. They were judged innocent later by a judge, but it was too late, they had already served thier time and the damage was done. The prosecuting Attorney’s office and the Probation department of Luzerne county have been directly linked to the kick backs and it has been judged that they can not be sued. This leaves Mark Ciavarella, Michael Conahan, Robert Powell, Vision Holdings, Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care, Robert Mericle and Mericle Construction.

    The people of Luzerne county Pennsylvania need to be made aware that what they have experienced is not an uncommon occurrence with the court system, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There are many sites that contain the information they need to show the rampant dangers and corruption present when these groups get together in schemes to make money for themselves.


      1. Luzerne County in Pennsylvania has a population of roughly 300,000 people. 4000 of them have been harmed by corrupt Judges, District Attorney’s, Probation departments and Rehab facilities. Of those 4000 people, 10% or 400 of them have come forward to attest what has happened to them during the “Kids for Cash” scheme.

        Many more of those 4000 people are hurting because of this tragedy. The families of these people do not know the manipulation and danger from “hardcore” members of these NA and AA groups. They believe that it is a benevolent fellowship that does no harm. The press and media protect AA and NA from having these dangers revealed because of the anonymity clause they use.

        What is needed is for the mothers and fathers of Luzerne County Pennsylvania to be made aware that sending thier loved ones for help to NA or AA can cause much more harm than good. They may be sending thier Girl Scout or Honor Student who was experimenting with alcohol or drugs into a world where rapists, drug dealers and con men will prey on them and get thier phone numbers, addresses and invade thier family life.


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