By Borys Krawczeniuk / Staff Writer
Federal prosecutors largely ignored the “kids for cash” angle in their prosecution of former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and the judge’s lawyer angrily ripped the description Friday.
To Nancy Gannon Hornberger and Marsha Levick, it did not matter.
In their eyes, the 12 guilty verdicts against a former judge who became nationally infamous were bigger than the 27 not guilty.
“Recognizing the significant emotional and financial harm and setting aside the cash-for-kids scheme, this was a victory for the effective and safe administration of juvenile justice,” said Ms. Hornberger, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice in Washington, D.C. “And it’s a victory for all of the judges who do this right.”
Ms. Levick, deputy director for the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which kick-started the look at Mr. Ciavarella’s practices as judge, said the case was always “bigger than one courtroom.” She pointed to the state Supreme Court’s 2009 decision to dismiss almost 5,000 juvenile cases handled by the disgraced judge.
“I think the verdict demonstrates that justice will be done,” she said. “I think Ciavarella was convicted of extremely serious charges.”
She understands the anger of parents who watched Mr. Ciavarella walk out free Friday.
“We understand that parents are dismayed that he walked out when their children were immediately handcuffed and carried away,” she said. But Ms. Levick and Ms. Hornberger declined to second-guess federal prosecutors’ handling of the case. Ms. Levick said the judge is likely to get 12 to 15 years in jail at a minimum, and juveniles’ federal civil rights lawsuits remain pending.
“I think it’s still a victory,” Ms. Hornberger said.
Attorney Barry Dyller, the Luzerne County lawyer who represents in lawsuits many of the juveniles Mr. Ciavarella ordered detained, also declined to question prosecution strategy and said the verdict made him proud of the American judicial system. His clients had a mixed reaction, many preferring that Mr. Ciavarella be jailed immediately, he said.
“We have the greatest judicial system in the world, and this jury took its role very, very seriously,” he said. “Lawyers sometimes don’t have the greatest reputation, and it’s really a shame because the vast majority of them are honest, hardworking and play by the rules.”
Attorney Michael Cefalo, who also represents many of the juveniles, remains angry and said the case raised questions about “what else is going on behind the scenes.”
“One of the things is that hopefully, we’re going to regain confidence in our judicial system,” Mr. Cefalo said. “(But) what these SOBs did was they preyed on the people most in need of our society: children.”
For local lawyers, it was hardly a day to celebrate.
“It’s sad. It really is. The whole thing. There’s no winner in this,” Lackawanna County attorney Christopher Munley said. “The system looks bad; the profession looks bad. … Justice was served, (but) this wasn’t a day you could celebrate either way.”
Attorney Mark Powell, who struggled for years with a public perception that he was related to attorney Robert Powell, a central figure in the case, said the system worked because the jury clearly thought through its verdict.
“I was shocked at some of the testimony, because as a lawyer, I can’t believe some of this stuff that went on,” he said. “I think it’s the exception rather than the rule, but it paints all of us with the same brush.”
Attorney Judith Gardner Price said she hopes the public will not think what happened in Luzerne County is true of Lackawanna County, whose judges’ performance she praised. Every profession has bad apples, she said.
Lackawanna County President Judge Tom Munley and county Judges Carmen D. Minora and Robert A. Mazzoni declined to comment. Efforts to reach other judges were unsuccessful.