For over two years now the media has followed what Attorney Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center characterized as the worst miscarriage of justice in the history of the United States.
Perhaps Ms. Levick and others should hit the history books and read stories of how jurors, judges, police, and prosecutors in the pre Civil Rights era South conspired on a regular basis to literally let “whites” get away with murder by failing to charge, failing to prosecute, and failing to convict for white on black crime. Or perhaps look to Chicago and other cities during the Prohibition era and see how judges and jurors were routinely paid off to, again, let people get away with murder.
Our history is rife with examples of people systematically “getting away with murder.” So when you are compiling a list of the “greatest miscarriages of justice in American history,” the Judge Mark Ciavarella matter doesn’t even merit “Honorable Mention.”
Don’t misinterpret this commentary as a vindication of Ciavarella, because it is not. Ciavarella is a tax cheat! He is a convicted felon, but he is not the “Kids for Cash” pariah which the media hopes and prays he is.
With that said, let’s look at some of the biggest myths surrounding the Ciavarella case.
9. Ciavarella was the master mind behind this whole scandal. FALSE The whole PA Child Care idea appears to be the brainchild of Attorney Robert Powell and/or former Judge Michael Conahan. Ciavarella was, at most, a late arriver at the table.
8. Ciavarella extorted Powell. FALSE The jury agreed whole heartedly that Powell was not the “simple country lawyer” he says he was. Powell was a political power broker with a take no prisoners attitude. He played rough and hard, and there was no one who could intimidate him. He engaged in “save my ass” behavior since the day he was caught. He played the federal prosecutors like a Stradivarius.
7 Ciavarella single handedly imprisoned thousands of innocent children. FALSE This is false on a multitude of levels. First, the vast majority (exceeding 95 percent, if not higher) were guilty, by any reasonable standards, of criminal conduct. Second, every juvenile who appeared before Ciavarella got there because he or she was charged of a crime by a law enforcement agency. Ciavarella didn’t ride around in a van and snatch kids off the street so he could put them in PA Child Care. Third, take the self serving statements of juveniles for what they are worth. All the news articles on the children are based on what the children said. Remember, juvenile records of charges, transcripts of proceedings, and all other paperwork is not available to the public.
6. The prosecution scored a major win. FALSE Only in baseball will batting .307 (guilty on 12 out of 39) get you into the Hall of Fame. The prosecution failed miserably. Not guilty of bribery or extortion! That’s a loss, and all the spin in the world can’t turn a strike out into a hit.
5. Judge Kosik was fair and impartial. FALSE Kosik spent way too much time reading his own press and the press reports involving this case. His bias was evidenced by not accepting Ciavarella’s initial guilty plea, his failure to recuse himself in this matter, and most vividly by his actions during the trial which showed he’d rather be at the prosecution table than behind the bench.
4. Ciavarella is either an idiot or lying when he says the Mericle money was a finder’s fee. FALSE Ciavarella was greedy, so he lead himself to believe that the Mericle money was a finder’s fee. The legality of the finder’s fee in this particular matter is certainly up to debate, but there is no doubt that accepting such a fee was totally improper and just not right for a judge, or any public official for that matter. Ciavarella let the power of the almighty dollar blur his objectivity with regard to the finder’s fee, but he is not stupid or lying for believing it was.
3. The incarceration rate of juveniles skyrocketed after PA Child Care was built. FALSE Ciavarella was a no nonsense judge when it came to criminal cases, especially on “second chances.” For those of you who remember 1995, when Ciavarella was first elected judge, he ran on a “tough on crime” platform. He regularly sentenced juveniles to detention both before and after PA Child Care was built.
2. The old juvenile facility was adequate and building a new one was unnecessary. FALSE The old juvenile facility was a falling down, rat and cockroach infested hell hole. Ask anyone who ever worked in, visited, or had the pleasure of being held there. The building should have been condemned 20 years ago.
1. This was a “Kids for Cash” case. FALSE, FALSE, FALSE It never was. The whole “kids for cash” moniker was a ploy to “sell newspapers” caused by shoddy and lazy journalism and a blurring of the facts because children were involved. If you believe for one moment, as one local newspaper analyst theorizes, that the prosecution limited its focus to ensure a conviction, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. The prosecution failed to produce “Kids for Cash” evidence, because it didn’t have any. Let’s face the facts, if the feds had the “Kids for Cash” evidence, they would have brought it into the case for the mere shock value alone. Any evidence of “Kids for Cash” would have so inflamed the jury that Ciavarella could have been convicted on all the charges in a 390 count indictment, let alone a 39 count indictment. The fact that Ciavarella is not more than a mere tax cheat doesn’t sell papers and isn’t “sexy” enough to warrant all the media attention this case has gotten. Ciavarella accepted a questionable, not necesarily illegal, payment of a large sum of money. Then he tried to hide it to avoid embarrassment and tax liability. The fact that it involved a juvenile center is, at best, an interesting footnote. That’s what this case was about, nothing more, nothing less.