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'Kids for Cash' Judge Ciavarella Loses Appeal

By Kelly Cheung | Last updated on

A former state judge's conviction and 28-year sentence was affirmed by the Third Circuit this week. The former "Kids for Cash" judge was convicted by a jury for 12 of 27 counts including racketeering and money laundering conspiracy in February 2011.

The former juvenile court judge's appeal was rejected except for 1 count for Honest Services Mail Fraud. The court supported the argument that the former judge did not waive his statute-of-limitations defense to this count, but he was not so successful in his other arguments.

The "Kids for Cash" scandal came to surface in late 2008 when former judge Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr. and a fellow judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of sending hundreds of juveniles to private detention centers in exchange for referral fees of over $2.8 million from commercial builder, Robert Mericle, and attorney/businessman, Robert Powell.

One of the arguments the former judge made on appeal was that the district court judge should have been recused. He felt that the judge was biased in favor of the prosecution through his actions with the media and his own view of the defendant.

An article was published in the Citizens Voice newspaper that purported to detail the district court judge and another individual's conversation after Ciavarella's plea hearing. Ciavarella argued that this article could be considered a judge commenting on the merits of his case and his guilt, which should disqualify the judge.

The Third Circuit disagreed stating that it is not clear whether the district court judge actually made the statements in that article. The court actually notes that the statements are quotes from judicial filings, and the judge did not speak to the media for that article.

Another issue for Ciavarella was how the district court responded to media. There are several letters that the district court judge made in response to media that the Third Circuit would discourage, but did not find sufficient to trigger a recusal.

In one letter, the judge expressed his agreement with the recipient by stating, "My personal opinions are in complete sympathy with those you express. The only difference is that my personal beliefs cannot guide my responsibility and judgments." Several other letters expressed his personal opinion on this case.

The responses of the district court judge did consist of his personal opinions of the case but he made sure to express that they would not affect his judgments. Some responses also consisted of an appreciation for the recipient's viewpoint, and others were statements of the status of the case.

The Third Circuit finds that no reasonable person would question the judge's impartiality based on those letters and circumstances. There must be a showing of a "deep-seated antagonism" to meet the standard for recusal, and it was not there.

Overall, the Third Circuit finds the district court judge's opinions and actions towards the case or Ciavarella within normal opinions of a trial judge presented with information during trial. The negative views of the judge arose from the matters before him, and not from his own bias or outside sources.

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