The two former Luzerne County Judges being prosecuted for denying juveniles their constitutional rights to due process in return for $2.6 million in cash from a privatized detention system company are fighting a class action lawsuit against them. Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella are arguing they have judicial immunity from such suits. Nineteen former judges and legal scholars are contesting the argument claiming such a decision would make the concept a mockery.
The idea of judicial immunity is to protect judges from being sued for actions they take from the bench. I doubt it was designed to protect corrupt judges who are on the take.
From the brief:
“Application of immunity to judges who admitted under oath to engaging in a criminal scheme for years would indeed be monstrous,” attorney Sara B. Richman, who filed the brief on behalf of the legal scholars, says in court papers. “To find immunity would denigrate the respect of the public for the judiciary, which is dependent upon judges making decisions based on the law and the facts, rather than personal, corrupt motives.”
Abraham Gafni, one of the nineteen wrote this persuasive argument:
“There was a sense of perversion of the legal doctrine of judicial immunity, that it was being applied where it was never intended to be applied,” said Gafni, a former court of common pleas judge. “Judicial immunity is not meant to protect judges who are admittedly engaging in criminal activity.”
The judges are accused of accepting kickbacks in return for sentencing juvenile offenders to the company’s privatized juvenile detention facility. They denied them right to lawyers during their court proceedings in order to conceal the extent of their judicial misconduct and alleged crimes. Both judges filed guilty pleas then withdrew them and opted for trials.
Meanwhile Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, head of the ethics commission for the state judges says they received a complaint about Conanhan and Ciavarella and forwarded it to prosecutors, an action which precipitated the investigation. This is how good judges protect us from the few bad ones. In this case the system worked.
While Judge Panella was doing this his opponent for Supreme Court was out speaking to Tea Baggers. Joan Orie Melvin, being widely accused by many of ethical misconduct on the campaign trail, addressed radical fringe protesters in Lehighton. I have received several reports of people at closed door meetings with Judge Melvin saying she is openly offering to fix upcoming cases in return for key endorsements. How this is much different from what Conahan and Ciavarella did is vague. Either way judges are for sale. The big trouble with corrupt judges is that someone else may come along with a better offer and ruin your fix.
Now storm clouds are circling over another Luzerne County Judge. This time it is Judge Joeseph Musto whose son got an ARD after being charged with drug possession, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program is supposed to only be for first time offenders but young Joseph Musto doesn’t qualify due to a previous record. Oops…
While the issue of ethics and integrity is central to this year’s appellate court elections Judge Melvin is out talking to tea baggers and promising to fix cases while Jack Panella is running an open, honest campaign after a distinguished career watching over evil doers and bad Judges.