A federal judge has combined four lawsuits against the two former judges involved in Pennsylvania's “kids for cash” scandal into a single class-action. The judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, were involved in a scheme to sentence children to long stays in private juvenile detention facilities in exchange for kickbacks.
The ruling means the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, over 4,000 of them, may finally see their cases move forward, after a four-year delay.
Ciavarella pleaded guilty in 2009, under a plea agreement, to receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, the owners of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities. In exchange for the money, Ciavarella sentenced children to private juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Conahan stopped funding to the county youth detention facility, and agreed to send teens instead to the private facilities in exchange for bribes. He was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison.
Powell and Mericle have also been targeted with lawsuits. Powell lost his law license, and Mericle faces jail time.
Parents not only saw their children given long sentences for minor crimes, but had their wages and Social Security benefits seized to pay for the privately-owned, for-profit detention facilities.
The investigation into the improper sentencing began in 2007, after complaints to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit. In their investigation, lawyers from the JLC were able to identify several hundred cases were tried without the defendants receiving proper counsel.