Alex Constantine - May 28, 2010
By Scott Detrow | WHYY-TV | May 28th, 2010
The commission created to investigate Luzerne County Pennsylvania's "cash for kids" judicial scandal says the county experienced "a collapse of the rule of law." The commission, the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, says everyone – from judges to lawyers to the general community – shares part of the blame.
The document 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,” says Cleland. “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.”
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.