The federal judge responsible for overseeing the sentencing of two former Luzerne County, Pa., judges who have pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges has rejected the judges' plea agreements.
U.S. Middle District Judge Edwin M. Kosik's stunning order rejecting the plea deals of Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. was posted late Friday afternoon and dated July 30.
Kosik said he could not accept the plea agreements in light of the judges' refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes they had committed.
"In light of the post-guilty plea conduct and expressions from the defendants that contradict some offense conduct, the negotiated pleas, which were grounded in the good faith of the government, are well below the sentencing guidelines for the charged offenses," Kosik wrote in his five-page order.
"We paraphrase what has been written about judges, that, above all things, integrity is their lot and proper value, the landmark, and he that removes it, corrupts the fountain. In this case, the fountain from which the public drinks is confidence in the judicial system -- a fountain which may be corrupted for a time well after this case."
According to the order, Kosik will hold a hearing, during which Conahan and Ciavarella can either withdraw their guilty pleas or accept a potentially stiffer sentence from Kosik. In addition, Kosik said the parties had 10 days to waive the hearing in writing.
What happens next is uncertain. One source said the government might come back with a superseding indictment against the former judges seeking additional charges.
Sources have been telling The Legal Intelligencer for months there was a good chance Kosik would not accept the plea agreements. Several sources late Friday said they were not surprised by Kosik's decision, although upon hearing the news, some said: "Wow!"
Kosik expressed displeasure with both former judges, but it was Conahan's objections to the pre-sentence report that brought the brunt of Kosik's ire. He said Conahan filed "several sets of objections."
"The most recent revised objections, which remain unresolved, total some twelve which address more than one paragraph of the pre-sentence report," Kosik said.
While he did not provide details about the objections, Kosik said some of them are denials of the "receipts of money."
"The report represents that defendant Conahan refused to discuss the motivation behind his conduct, attempted to obstruct and impede justice, and failed to clearly demonstrate affirmative acceptance of responsibility with his denials and contradiction of evidence, which is essential to the tenor of the government's case," Kosik said.
Ciavarella, the judge wrote, was less obstructive.
Instead, Kosik took issue with Ciavarella's public remarks -- which have been frequent as of late -- that his actions did not amount to a "quid pro quo."
The government had an "abundance of evidence" detailing a "routine deprivation of children's constitutional rights," Kosik wrote. He further wrote that the government's evidence described Ciavarella's role in the juvenile detention facility as having "helped to create [it] in return for a 'finder's fee.'"
"Such denials are self serving and abundantly contradicted by the evidence the government proffers as offense conduct," Kosik wrote.
Ciavarella's attorney, Al Flora, could not be reached for comment late Friday. Conahan's attorney, Philip Gelso, could not be reached for comment.