Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella is currently serving a 28-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution at Pekin, Ill., for participating in what is widely known as the “Kids for Cash” scandal.
At the center of the scandal is a $2.8-million kickback scheme related to the placement of youths in Pennsylvania juvenile facilities.
Ciavarella had practiced law for 20 years before being elected to the county bench in 1995. In 2005, he won another 10 years on the bench, and in 2006, he was elected president judge.
In 2009, however, federal prosecutors’ allegations pinned Ciavarella and former county judge Michael Conahan as participants in a kickback scheme revolving around the Pennsylvania Child Care facility in Pittston Township and the Western Pennsylvania Child Care Center in Butler County.
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Ciavarella resigned in March of 2009. In 2011, he was convicted by a federal jury on 12 out of 39 counts, although he has repeatedly insisted that he never incarcerated children in exchange for money.
Conahan pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison.
When Ciaverella’s defense team appealed his case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the panel upheld 11 of the 12 convictions that had been established in the February 2011 trial.
Still unwilling to give up on the case, defense attorney Al Flora Jr. and co-counsel William Ruzzo filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court in October. When a certiorari is demanded, a higher-level court orders a reexamination of a lower court’s action.
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These petitions usually receive curt responses with little or no explanation; Ciavarella’s, appearing Monday on a list with dozens of other cases, was no different.
The ruling was unmistakable: “certiorari denied.”
Ciaverlla’s attorneys had previously said that the appeal was a long shot and that denial was likely; the Supreme Court only hears about 75 of the 10,000 cases it is asked to consider each year. The announcement happened to coincide with Ciavarella’s 64th birthday and represented his last option on direct appeal.
One potential option still remains to Ciavarella in appealing his conviction and sentencing. According to Flora, Ciavarella has one year from Monday to file a post-conviction appeal with U.S. District Court, which heard his 2011 trial. Although Ciavarella “can’t raise any issues that were raised under direct appeal,” Flora said that “everything else” is open.
Flora said he sent Ciavarella an email notifying him of the decision. Ciavarella remains jailed at Federal Correctional Institution at Pekin, a medium-security facility.
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