Mark Arthur Ciavarella Jr. (born March 3, 1950) is a convicted felon and former President Judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who was involved, along with fellow judge Michael Conahan, in the "Kids for cash" scandal in 2008.
Mark Arthur Ciavarella Jr.
March 3, 1950
|Alma mater||King's College|
Duquesne Law School
|Occupation||Former President Judge|
|Known for||Kids for cash scandal|
|Successor||Chester B. Muroski |
|Criminal status||Federal inmate #15008-067 Federal Correctional Institution, Ashland, Kentucky|
|Spouse(s)||Cindy Baer (div. 2013)|
|Criminal charge||Racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations|
|Penalty||28 years in prison|
Ciavarella was a lifelong resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, having been raised in the East End section of the city and attending St. Mary's High School. After graduating from the local King's College he attended Duquesne University School of Law, receiving his law degree in 1975. Ciavarella entered private legal practice, becoming a partner in the firm of Lowery, Ciavarella and Rogers. From 1976 to 1978 he was city solicitor and then from 1978 until 1995 he served as solicitor for the city zoning board. In 1995 he ran for judge in Luzerne County on the Democratic ticket and was elected to a ten-year term. He was re-elected to a second ten-year term in 2005. Ciavarella was also active in several civic and Catholic organizations. He was married to the former Cindy Baer and the couple have three children. They separated on September 15, 2010, and on May 2013 she filed for divorce.
Ciavarella pleaded guilty on February 13, 2009, pursuant to a plea agreement, to federal charges of honest services fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in connection with receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, the co-owner and builder respectively, of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities of PA Child Care. In exchange for these kickbacks, Ciavarella sentenced children to extended stays in juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart. More specifically, the crimes charged were: conspiracy to deprive the public of the "intangible right of honest services", or corruption, and conspiracy to defraud the United States by failing to report income to the Internal Revenue Service. Ciavarella tendered his resignation to Governor Ed Rendell on January 23, 2009, prior to official publication of the charges.
The plea agreement called for Ciavarella to serve up to seven years in prison, pay fines and restitution, and accept responsibility for the crimes. However, Ciavarella denied that there was a connection between the juvenile sentences he rendered and the kickbacks he received. In part because of this denial, on July 30, 2009, Judge Edwin M. Kosik of Federal District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania rejected the plea agreement. He ruled that Ciavarella had continued to deny that there was a ‘quid pro quo’ between his receipt of money and his jailing of juveniles, instead characterizing the money as a "finder’s fee" despite what Judge Kosik felt was the weight of the government's evidence. Attorneys for the two judges brought a motion requesting reconsideration of the judge's rejection of the plea agreement. The motion was denied on August 24, and Ciavarella and Conahan withdrew their guilty pleas, resulting in the case going to trial.
On September 9, 2009, a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania returned a 48 count indictment against Ciavarella and Conahan, which included racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations. Both judges were arraigned on the charges on September 15, 2009. Ciavarella and Conahan entered pleas of not guilty to the 48-count indictment, and remained free on one million dollars bail, despite federal prosecutors contentions that their bail should be raised since they now faced the possibility of substantially more prison time and that there was evidence of their attempts to shield assets.
On February 18, 2011, a jury in federal court found Ciavarella guilty of racketeering. This charge stemmed from Ciavarella accepting $997,000 in illegal payments from Robert Mericle, the real estate developer of PA Child Care, and attorney Robert Powell, a co-owner of the facility. Ciavarella was also on trial for 38 other counts including accepting numerous payments from Mericle and Powell as well as tax evasion.
On August 11, 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. On May 24, 2013, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated one count of the indictment against Ciavarella, but upheld all other charges, as well as his sentence. The Third Circuit refused to reconsider on July 24, 2013. The Supreme Court, which rarely accepts such cases, declined to hear the appeal in 2014, although Ciavarella could file a post-conviction relief motion before U.S. District Court within one year. With good behavior, he could be released in less than 24 years, when he would be 85. Ciavarella initially served his sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Pekin in Pekin, Illinois.
On January 9, 2018, federal judge Christopher C. Conner threw out Civarella's convictions for racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering on appeal. Conner upheld Civarella's contention that his attorneys failed to raise statute of limitations claims on those charges. He ordered a new trial on those counts, but allowed the honest services fraud convictions to stand.
Ciavarella is a defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by the Juvenile Law Center on behalf of the juveniles who were adjudicated delinquent by him despite not being represented by counsel or advised of their rights. He has moved to dismiss this lawsuit as it pertains to him based on judicial immunity. He is also named as a defendant in three other lawsuits, however, all four lawsuits have been consolidated into one master class action lawsuit which was filed in June and then amended in late August, 2009.
The plaintiffs, in a 75-page court filing on September 9, 2009, argued that the actions of Ciavarella and Conahan should not be "fully shielded by absolutely judicial immunity or legislative immunity", because their actions went beyond their judicial and administrative duties.
Review of judicial rulingsEdit
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, using its rarely invoked power of "King's Bench jurisdiction," appointed Senior Judge Arthur Grim as special master to review all of Ciavarella's juvenile sentences. On March 26, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted Grim's recommendations and threw out hundreds of Civarella's juvenile convictions on the grounds that the defendants' rights had been violated.
In early 2009, the Wilkes-Barre daily newspaper The Citizens' Voice accused Judge Ciavarella of improperly concealing a conflict of interest when he rendered a $3.5 million defamation judgment against the paper, and it moved to have the case reopened. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt to conduct hearings into the matter. After two days of testimony that July, Judge Platt recommended that the verdict be vacated and a new trial be conducted. His recommendation was partially based on the fact that Ciavarella admitted that he wrongly presided over cases involving clients of Robert J. Powell, an attorney who paid Ciavarella and Conahan more than $770,000 in kickbacks.
In June 2009, attorneys from Laputka, Bayless, Ecker & Cohn, a Hazleton law firm, appealed a $3.4 million legal malpractice verdict and wished to supplement the record to indicate that Ciavarella should not have presided over the case and should have recused himself because of his relationship with Powell, who was the opposing attorney.
In early August 2009, the state Supreme Court ordered Luzerne County President Judge Chester Muroski to review a land dispute case that was dismissed by Ciavarella to determine if the ruling was tainted. First National Community Bank had loaned Ciavarella $848,000 and Conahan sat on the bank's board of directors. Ciavarella dismissed a lawsuit by Emil Malinowski against the bank, a ruling which was upheld by the state Superior Court.
Dr. Ki Bum Lee, M.D. requested that a malpractice suit against him by Debra Sharkey be dropped. In court papers filed in early September 2009, Dr. Lee's attorney, Michael Badowski, said Dr. Lee should also be awarded damages after information surfaced regarding Ciavarella, William Sharkey, the former court administrator, and Sharkey’s attorney, Robert Powell. Badowski alleged that Sharkey's first cousin and Ciavarella's co-defendant, Judge Michael Conahan, assigned Ciavarella to the malpractice case and that, because of the conflict of interest, Ciavarella had continually ruled against the doctor. The lawsuit, originally filed in October 1997, claimed Lee committed malpractice during Debra Sharkey's hysterectomy.
Judge Thomas Ambro of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Mark Ciavarella is not entitled to a new trial which would have accounted the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in McDonnell v. United States, in March of 2019.McDonnell v. United States altered the definition of 'official acts' as they relate to bribery. In his opinion, Ambro staed “Ciavarella’s bribery-related actions still satisfy even a post-McDonnell understanding of ‘official act.’ If sentencing hundreds of juvenile offenders to excessive terms of incarceration is not an ‘official act,’ then nothing is.”
Ciavarella, whose resignation from the bench took effect on March 16, 2009, submitted an application for pension benefits that same day, seeking to withdraw a lump sum of $232,051 that included $51,699 in interest and to begin receiving $5,156 in monthly pension benefits. However, Ciavarella agreed to a federal injunction freezing his pension benefits on or about May 27, 2009. The injunction was requested by the U.S. Attorney's office in order to apply the benefits to restitution to the victims.
Subsequently, the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) denied pension benefits to Ciavarella, reversing its earlier position that he was eligible to receive benefits until he was sentenced. SERS ruled the former judge's guilty pleas to fraud and conspiracy in February provided sufficient grounds to deny the benefits. The agency based its determination on the Pension Forfeiture Act, which allows for the denial of benefits to anyone convicted of certain crimes related to their public employment. SERS also refused to repay Ciavarella the $234,000 he contributed to the retirement system because the state Department of Public Welfare claimed he and Conahan are liable for $4.3 million in alleged overpayments it made to two juvenile detention centers.
- Kanjorski, Paul (March 9, 2006). "Congratulating Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr. as he is named "Man of the Year" by the Wilkes-Barre Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick". Congressional Record. Retrieved 2015-02-08.
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- Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S Department of Justice, Inmate Locator.
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- "Amended Master Complaint" (PDF). August 27, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
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- Michael Rubinkam (February 19, 2009). "Paper: $3.5M Defamation Award Fixed by Pa. Judge". ABC News.[dead link]
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- Sisak, Michael (June 17, 2009). "Law firm seeks incorporate Powell guilty plea in campaign to overturn verdict". The Citizens' Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19.
- Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (August 7, 2009). "Ciavarella ruling reviewed Pa. Supreme Court wants President Judge Muroski to take another look at land dispute case involving bank". Timesleader.com. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
- Delazio, Sheena (September 5, 2009). "Doctor: Ciavarella had conflict in his case Malpractice case was filed by wife of William Sharkey, the former court administrator". Timesleader.com. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- D'Annunzio, P.J. (March 29, 2019). "Doctor: 3rd Circuit Denies Incarcerated 'Kids-for-Cash' Judge Ciavarella's Bid for New Trial". law.com. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
- Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (April 11, 2009). "Ex-judge may net $50,000 - Timing of Ciavarella's resignation may enable him to keep pension interest". Timesleader.com. Archived from the original on May 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- "Judge Orders Ciavarella's Pension Fund Frozen". WNEP-TV. May 27, 2009. Archived from the original on June 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
- Janoski, Dave (June 16, 2009). "No pension for disgraced judges". The Citizen's Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (June 16, 2009). "Two ex-judges denied pensions Ciavarella, Conahan may have to pay state $4.3M". Timesleader.com. Archived from the original on 2015-02-08. Retrieved 2015-02-08.
- Janoski, Dave (June 15, 2009). "State seeks $4.3 M from Conahan, Ciavarella". The Citizen's Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2009-09-06.