Pennsylvania judges in juvenile sentencing scandal withdraw guilty pleas

[JURIST] Two former Pennsylvania judges on Monday withdrew their guilty pleas [JURIST report] on charges of accepting more than $2.6 million in kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which they had a financial interest. Former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty in February to federal corruption charges [criminal information, PDF] of honest services fraud and tax fraud. Last month, Judge Edwin Kosik of the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] rejected their plea agreements after finding that the men did not accept responsibility and that the prison sentences were too lenient [NYT report], prompting the two former judges to file a motion for their reinstatement. Kosik refused to reinstate the plea agreements Monday, causing the former judges to withdraw their pleas and clearing the way for a trial.

In the wake of this corruption scandal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] ordered hundreds of juvenile convictions to be overturned [JURIST report] and records to be expunged without hearing. Judicial corruption cases in the US are relatively rare but not unprecedented. In the 1980s, 17 Illinois judges were indicted after the FBI and the DOJ joined forces in Operation Graylord [FBI backgrounder], aimed at judicial corruption in Cook County, Illinois. Fourteen judges were eventually convicted [list]. The first US federal judge convicted of corruption was Martin Manton [NYT backgrounder] of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who sold his vote in various patent cases after suffering financial hardship in the Great Depression. His conviction was upheld [NYT reports, PDF] by the Second Circuit itself in 1939 and he spent two years in federal penitentiary.

 

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