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Former Pennsylvania judge pleads guilty in juvenile sentencing scandal

[JURIST] Former Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan pleaded guilty Thursday on charges of accepting more than $2.6 million in kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which he had a financial interest. The former president judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] pleaded guilty [Philadelphia Inquirer report] to one count of racketeering conspiracy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Conahan also faces a fine of no more than $250,000 and disbarment. He will be sentenced by Judge Edwin Kosik of the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website], who previously rejected [NYT report] joint plea agreements [text, PDF] from Conahan and former judge Mark Ciavarella Jr., finding that plea bargaining to honest services fraud and tax evasion charges demonstrated that the men did not accept responsibility and that the disbarment and 87-month prison sentences were too lenient [JURIST op-ed]. An attorney for Ciavarella said that he plans to go to trial.

As part of an ongoing public corruption investigation, US Attorney Dennis Pfannenschmidt announced earlier this month that a twenty-eighth person has been charged [press release] with soliciting and receiving bribes and gratuities in connection with the scandal. Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll [official website] agreed in January to drop efforts to retry 46 juveniles whose original convictions were overturned [JURIST reports] because they had been issued by a judge indicted on federal corruption charges for an alleged kickback scheme. This decision ended all efforts at retrying any of the convicted juveniles, who will now have their juvenile records cleared. The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center [advocacy website] issued a statement [press release] applauding the decision, indicating that "justice has finally been attained" for the juveniles. In October, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] overturned about 6,500 convictions handed down by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, but gave prosecutors permission to seek retrial of more than 100 youths who were still under court supervision. Conahan and Ciavarella were indicted in September, following a withdrawal of the guilty pleas [JURIST reports] they entered in February 2009.

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