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Federal judge accepts plea agreement in juvenile sentencing scandal

The US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] on Friday accepted a plea agreement [text, PDF] with former Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan for his involvement in the juvenile sentencing scandal [JURIST news archive]. Conahan, the former president judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website], pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges [Citizens Voice report] for accepting more than $2.6 million in return for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities. Conahan now faces a 20-year prison sentence, a fine of up to $250,000 and disbarment. The date of his sentencing has not been set [AP report]. Judge Edwin Kosik had 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 maintains his innocence and intends to go to trial.

In April, US Attorney Dennis Pfannenschmidt announced that 28 people have 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 in the scandal. 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] applauded the decision [press release], 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 they entered [JURIST reports] in February 2009.

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