In court, Zubrod said Ciavarella had “verbally abused and cruelly mocked children he sent away after violating their rights.” He called the ex-judge “vicious and mean-spirited” and asked U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to punish Ciavarella’s “profound evil” with a life sentence.
“The criminal justice system (in Luzerne County) is ruined and will not recover in our lifetimes,” Zubrod added.
Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, of taking more than $2 million in bribes from Robert Mericle, the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers, and of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Robert Powell, the facilities’ co-owner.
Ciavarella, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, pocketed the cash while filling the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families.
“Frankly, I don’t think Ciavarella or Conahan themselves really personally cared where the juveniles went, as long as they could use their power to place the juveniles as leverage or control over Mericle and Powell,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said Thursday.
Speaking of Ciavarella, Smith added: “There’s no true remorse and there’s a blind unwillingness to admit the overall seriousness of his conduct.”
The jury returned a mixed verdict following a February trial, convicting Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, and acquitting him of 27 counts, including extortion. The guilty verdicts related to a payment of $997,600 from Mericle.
Conahan pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing.
Sandy Fonzo, whose son committed suicide last year at the age of 23 after bouncing in and out of Ciavarella’s courtroom, said Thursday that justice was done.
“This judge was wrong, what he did to my son, what he did to all of our children, what he did to our families, and today proves that,” said Fonzo, who dramatically confronted Ciavarella on the courthouse steps earlier this year.
Susan Mishanski also applauded the sentence. Ciavarella had ordered her son to spend three months in a wilderness camp for scuffling with another kid.
“They did not even tell him where they were taking him. It was like someone kidnapped my son,” she said. “It was awful.”
Ciavarella and Conahan initially pleaded guilty in February 2009 to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal that called for a sentence of more than seven years in prison. But their plea deals were rejected by Kosik, who ruled they had failed to accept responsibility for their actions.