Image: Mark Ciavarella
David Kidwell  /  AP
Former judge Mark Ciavarella, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Scranton, Pa., in February 2009. He and former Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan are accused of taking kickbacks to supply private detention facilities with juveniles.
updated 1/25/2010 3:53:04 PM ET 2010-01-25T20:53:04

A northeastern Pennsylvania prosecutor has dropped her effort to retry as many as 46 youths who appeared before a judge charged in a corruption scandal, bringing an end to a legal saga that involved an estimated 5,000 tainted juvenile convictions.

The agreement between defense lawyers and Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll means that none of the thousands of youths who appeared before disgraced former Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. between 2003 and 2008 will face retrial, and all will have their juvenile records wiped clean.

"It's in the interest of fairness and justice that these cases be reversed, too," Carroll said in court Monday, exactly one year after Ciavarella and another judge were charged with accepting millions in kickbacks to place juvenile offenders in for-profit detention centers.

Anthony Brennan, who spent more than a year in detention after being caught breaking into an abandoned building when he was 15, said he was gratified by the decision.

"It's a sense of relief," said Brennan, now 18, of Hazleton. "I can get on with my life now."

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said that Ciavarella ran a kangaroo court in which he systemically denied youths their constitutional rights, including the right to counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

Alleged bribes paid to judge
After being found delinquent, the youths were often shackled and taken to private jails whose owner was allegedly paying bribes to the judge. Federal prosecutors have said that Ciavarella and another former Luzerne County judge, Michael Conahan, took a total of $2.8 million in payoffs.

The high court in October threw out thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, but gave prosecutors the option of seeking to retry more than 100 youths who remained under court supervision and who met certain other conditions.

Carroll originally planned to retry 46 of those juveniles, including offenders convicted of serious crimes like sexual assault, aggravated assault and arson. But she said a subsequent review determined that all but five of the youths were in fact ineligible for retrial under the Supreme Court guidelines because they had either appeared before Ciavarella without a lawyer or had spent time in one of the for-profit detention centers.

The five youths who could have been retried had been convicted of minor offenses, she said.

"I felt it wasn't in the best interest of justice to have those five cases go forward when nearly 5,000 cases were vacated," Carroll said.

Youth offenders who still need treatment will continue to get it under arrangements that have been made with social service agencies, she said.

Cases dismissed
On Monday, Berks County Senior Judge Arthur Grim, appointed last February to review cases handled by Ciavarella, ordered that the 46 cases be dismissed. They were the last convictions awaiting his review.

Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty in February to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal with prosecutors that called for a sentence of 87 months in prison, below federal guidelines. The deal was rejected in August by Senior U.S. District Judge Edward M. Kosik, who said the two hadn't fully accepted responsibility for the crimes, and the ex-judges switched their pleas to not guilty.

A federal grand jury then returned a 48-count racketeering indictment against the judges, who await trial.

Meanwhile, hundreds of individuals ranging from their teens to their early 20s have sued the judges in federal civil court.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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