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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's official: everybody knew

The public hearings of the Interbranch Commission of Juvenile Justice at the Best Western East Mountain Inn in Plains on Tuesday provided us with the following eye-opening testimony, courtesy of the Times Leader and the Citizens' Voice.

'Zero tolerance' policy accepted
(By Dave Janoski Projects Editor) Published: November 10, 2009

Former Luzerne County judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. toughened his "zero tolerance" policy for juvenile offenders just three days after the opening of a for-profit detention center whose owner allegedly paid him kickbacks, a former county juvenile probation official told a state panel Monday.

The tougher policy, which required detention for juveniles who missed school or curfew while on probation, swelled the number of detainees and payments going to the for-profit center, former probation official Sandra Brulo told the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, which held the first of two local hearings on the kids-for-cash scandal Monday.

"We would have more children going in," said Brulo, who is one of 18 people charged in a broad federal corruption scandal stemming from the kids-for-cash case. She has pleaded guilty to altering a court record and is awaiting sentencing.

Oh, well. Wouldn't want to risk my job by blowing the whistle, would I?

She would have been better served by pleading the fifth and then jumping off of a bridge. I originally saw her as a sympathetic character, somebody caught up in the fast-widening scandal by accident. A victim of circumstances. But no longer.

UPDATE: Russin says Luzerne County "has a systemic problem."
Mark Guydish

Chief Public Defender Basil Russin rejected the suggestion that he didn't really want to know what was going on while juveniles were denied rights in judge Mark Ciavarella's courtroom, but admitted "in hindsight I should have known."

Russin paused when asked "what's the mindset" in accepting the written waivers and lack of colloquies now known to be common but improper procedure under Ciavarella, then recounted an early experience as an attorney and said it is his habit to trust others in the system.

Commission member Jason Legg suggested that the very fact everyone seemed to embrace the zero tolerance policy was cause for a public defender to step forward and raise questions "for the little guy." Russin said his attorneys should have been asking if defendants wanted to appeal, and he was never told they did.

Russin closed by saying "what we have here in Luzerne County is a systemic problem. .. We still have a mindset in prosecutions and police and juvenile probation "that going to court is always a way to solve problems. "We have to stop that."

"It's a terrible thing that happened, I'm extremely upset ...being there puts a knot in my stomach. ... I'll never practice law the way I did for the past 36 years."

Ah, it must really suck when it becomes public knowledge that these high-brow, prestigious folks were all phoning it in.

But wait…there’s more…

Revolting as it may be…there’s more…

UPDATE:Probation chief admits attending questionable party
Mark Guydish

Luzerne County Probation Department Deputy chief of Administration John Johnson said he was invited and did attend a party thrown by Mid-Atlantic Youth Services at Big Ugly's, but could not recall how long it was, whether judges or county commissioners were there, or what type of food was served. He did say alcohol was provided, and that the party came around the time Luzerne County was sending juveniles to Western PA Child Care, one of two private detention centers at the heart of the judge corruption scandal.

Luzerne County choose Mid-Atlantic to run Pa Child Care in Pittston in 2005, after agreeing to lease the facility. One of the original developers of PA Child Care is Greg Zappala, who also reportedly owns Mid-Atlantic. The deal with Mid-Atlantic was approved by County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak, and Big Ugly's is owned by his father, who has testified before a federal grand jury investigating corruption in the area.

In hindsight, Johnson said, such a party was problematic because of the connections, but he did not see anything wrong with it at the time because the previous department head had given the OK for probation department staff to attend.

Commission Chairman John Cleland asked if there had been any instructions to recommend placement at Western PA Child Care the year placement from Luzerne County spiked. Johnson answered no. He said he did not no why recommendations were made to place children so far away, other than the fact that County Commissioners had not OK'd placement to a closer facility previously used.

Johnson also said that, if a child failed to pay restitution, they were put in detention. He said there were hearings on restitution but could not recall how often. Johnson said he never heard that the detention center would call and say it had beds available, or that, as Cleland put it, "An officer called the detention center and asked "this is a detention day, how many beds are available."

Johnson closed by recommending standardization of the detention process across the state.

So, long story short, these people are reinforcing my point about why we needed to vote no in the most vociferous of manners, no matter which judges were up for retention.

The dirty little secret is, while kids were being sent to the new-and-improved for-profit hoosegow for bucks, basically, everybody knew.

Everybody knew.

And isn’t it convenient for our recently retained judge that these hearings are being held a week after we voted on the question of whether or not to retain judges?

Everybody knew.

Told you so.


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