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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Victim's Advocate Testifies In "Kids For Cash" Probe

'Original victims' cheated in Luzerne scandal?

Interbranch Commission On Juvenile Justice Headed By Judge John Cleland

By Amy Worden
Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG - The state's victim advocate yesterday urged a special panel not to forget the thousands of "original victims" allegedly harmed by juveniles whose cases were heard by judges at the center of the Luzerne County criminal-justice scandal.

Carol L. Lavery, who heads Pennsylvania's Office of the Victim Advocate, says she has received letters from numerous victims - and parents of victims - of juvenile offenders whose cases were vacated as a result of the "cash for kids" corruption investigation.

Former Luzerne County Court Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan are accused of collecting $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending thousands of children to detention at private facilities.

The two pleaded guilty last year to fraud charges, but a federal judge threw out their plea agreements, saying the men had not accepted responsibility. They are awaiting trial.

The state Supreme Court last fall vacated the convictions of juvenile defendants who appeared in court before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, and barred retrials in all but a small portion of about 6,500 cases.

At yesterday's hearing, Lavery read excerpts of letters she has received from victims - some from those who lost family heirlooms to burglars, others from parents of children who were sexually assaulted. Many are left without a record of taking their case to court, let alone restitution. When the scandal came to light and verdicts were vacated, defendants' records were expunged.

"What about the victims?" said Lavery, testifying before the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, formed to investigate the failures in the juvenile-justice system that led to the scandal. "There is a loss of faith in the system."

Lavery said a restitution program must be created to calculate and pay for the financial losses suffered by crime victims and their families who have seen their cases washed aside.

The 11-member panel, meeting for the eighth time since its formation in August, also heard from state and national experts on an issue the scandal highlighted: the role of public defenders in juvenile cases. More...

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