The state Supreme Court has approved about $65,000 in restitution for the victims of juvenile offenders whose convictions were tossed out following the Luzerne County “kids-for-cash” scandal. But juvenile rights advocates say the focus should be on compensating the juveniles themselves.
The court posted three special master determinations that collectively listed the names of more than 100 victims and the amounts each will be compensated from the Special Juvenile Victim Compensation Fund, which was established by the legislature in 2010 “solely to provide compensation to victims of juvenile crime in a county of the third class.”
The documents, signed by Berks County Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, the special master appointed by the Supreme Court to review former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.’s cases, show the largest awards are for $1,500.
According to the documents, the amount to be paid to each victim is equal to what each would have been entitled to had a consent decree or adjudication of delinquency not been vacated, minus any compensation that may have already been paid in connection with the alleged crime.
Art Heinz, spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will oversee the allocation of the funds.
In February, a federal jury in Scranton found Ciavarella guilty of 12 of 39 counts of corruption filed against him, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, honest services mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy and a host of tax fraud charges.
Ciavarella was cleared of extortion, bribery and honest services wire fraud charges, however.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 11.
Marsha Levick, legal director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, which has represented several of the juveniles who came before Ciavarella, called the legislature’s and Supreme Court’s efforts to compensate the victims of juvenile offenders a “sideshow” that shifts the focus away from what the juveniles themselves went through.
Levick said the more pressing issues are those dealing with waiver of counsel, expungement and appellate rights, all of which have been before the legislature for two years.
“And the kids are still waiting,” she said.
Levick added that most of the juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella had already “paid a very high price,” such as placement in a juvenile detention facility, before their records were expunged.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille could not be reached for comment at press time.
In March 2010, the state Supreme Court issued an order approving the final steps to expunge the records of all juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.
Those steps included requiring the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office to memorialize its intention to not proceed with the re-prosecution of any of those juveniles. Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll previously decided not to retry those cases.
The Supreme Court also authorized Grim to direct that the records of those juveniles be expunged, directing him to submit sealed documentation of each juvenile conviction as it was expunged and vacated to assure “total” expungement in “all cases.”
Luzerne County solo attorney Barry H. Dyller, who has also represented several of Ciavarella’s juvenile victims, said he thought compensating the victims of juvenile crimes from a statewide fund was a “reasonable solution,” adding that giving each juvenile defendant a retrial would have been “utterly impossible.”
“I think the people who are owed restitution [for juvenile crimes against them], as well as every single kid, every single family and every single citizen of Luzerne County were victims of these judges and their co-conspirators,” he said. “Nothing can ever truly make anyone whole.”
Grim wrote in his Feb. 25, 2010, final report to the Supreme Court that the Luzerne County scandal has brought to the forefront the issue of proper relationships among courts, probation departments and agencies to provide services to juveniles in the court system.
“It is imperative that juvenile court judges advocate for needed services in their communities and that they be familiar with the quality of all programs and facilities that serve children and their families in their jurisdiction,” Grim wrote. “The polestar that must guide the courts is that the relationships and interactions among judges, probation officers, and representatives of agencies should not create even the appearance of impropriety.”
There are several ways in which the “effects of this entire tragic affair might have been ameliorated, if not avoided entirely,” Grim said.
In addition to the need for a state law to appoint a statewide juvenile victim advocate, Grim reiterated a suggestion by the Juvenile Law Center for the state Supreme Court to direct each county juvenile court to establish an ombudsperson.
Grim, echoing a recommendation for the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, said a juvenile should be required to consult with an attorney prior to waiving counsel during a detention hearing and a hearing considering transfer of juveniles into the adult criminal system, among other proceedings.
The special master also recommended the increased use of screening and assessment instruments, which assign points for specific risk factors and consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Grim said his home county’s use of such instruments has led to a 45 percent reduction in the average daily population of the county’s juvenile detention center.
Grim asked the court in August 2010 to speed his progress by handing down a sweeping order under the court’s King’s Bench powers to vacate nearly all of the records of juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella.
The court adopted all but one of Grim’s recommendations in his third interim report. The court directed that all adjudications of delinquency and all consent decrees entered by Ciavarella between Jan. 1, 2003, and May 31, 2008, be vacated, and that all records of cases be expunged in cases in which the juveniles were not represented by counsel in front of Ciavarella or the juveniles were committed by Ciavarella to PA Child Care or Western PA Child Care.