Dangerous Judge

In our ongoing series, Are You Judicially SeriousWe have bought you much hilarity. But this one takes the cake and reminds us that for every hilarious story of a Judge Gone Bad, there is a related story of just how much damage is done.

Today’s article concerns a very special kind of Judicial Jester – the KickBacker…

Mark Ciavarella was the President Judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and became embroiled in a scandal called the “Kids for Cash” Scandal.

He received $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, the co-owner and builder respectively, of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities.

How it worked was that every time the Judge sent a juvenile into prison, he would recieve a kick-back for doing so (assuming that the child would go into one of the Powell and Mericle prisons).

The judge promptly set about sentencing children to stints in custody for as minor matters as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart.

Here he is. Bad Judge.

The judge sent thousands of children into custody. One 10-year-old girl was sentenced to gaol for accidentally setting her house on fire while playing with a lighter, even though the landlord didn’t want to press charges. An 11-year-old got nearly two years for taking out his mother’s car and driving it over a curb(she only reported it because of the insurance), and a 14-year-old got three months for making fun of a teacher on MySpace. Most of these kids didn’t have lawyers, and their hearings often lasted less than two minutes.

“They said ‘MySpace’ and I was like, ‘Ugh, guilty.’”



Eventually Ciavarella’s method became too obvious for the courts to ignore: His convictions went from 4.5 percent when he took office in 1997 to 26 percent by 2004. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison, but not before causing around 4,000 previous convictions to be overturned.

The poor children.