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Luzerne judge recommends tossing convictions

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By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

In an unprecedented decision, a court-appointed master on Wednesday recommended the wholesale reversal of thousands of convictions of juveniles who appeared before a corrupt Luzerne County judge.

In a 32-page report, Arthur E. Grim, the special master appointed by the state Supreme Court, said evidence that the youths were deprived of their constitutional rights was so expansive and persuasive that all the cases heard over five years should be thrown out and not be retried.

The cases involve youths who appeared between 2003 and May 2008 before former judge Mark A. Civarella Jr., who is awaiting sentencing for a guilty plea to federal corruption charges.

Ciavarella and former Luzerne County judge Michael T. Conahan pleaded guilty to charges they were paid nearly $3 million in kickbacks from the operators of private juvenile detention facilities.

Dan Segal, an attorney representing the youths and their families in a pending federal civil suit, said Grim's recommendation was remarkable. He said he's hopeful the Supreme Court will adopt it.

"What he is saying is that the miscarriage of justice was so great and so persuasive that all these cases should be thrown out," Segal said. "It is without precedent."

Grim said his review of individual transcripts in a sample of cases showed Ciavarella repeatedly failed to inform the youths they had a right to legal representation.

"There was not a single word in any of the 12 transcripts concerning the juveniles' right to counsel," Grim wrote.

For those who had lawyers, Grim said those who served their sentences should have their findings of delinquency vacated as well. He said no good would come from retrying those cases.

Segal said, under the recommendation, a small percentage of cases Ciavarella heard would be reviewed. Those include youths who had lawyers and who are in custody or on probation.



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