Temple lawyers fought Luzerne County Pennsylvania sleaze–and won!

The Temple alumni office sent me an e-mail the other day about the lawyers Marsha Levick and Robert Schwarz, both ’70’s alums of Temple Law School. They are part of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, a lawyer advocacy group that looks after the rights of underage Pennsylvanians, and has for many years now.

The “cash for kids” scandal has already made news stateside, but it’s worth talking about. What was going on was that some judges in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (Luzerne County) were racking up false charges against teenagers in the county, for the purpose of sending them to a private detention center (private jail). The jail was being run by a “businessman” who was giving money back to the judges for every teenager sentenced to the detention center!

In the end, this turned out to be thousands of kids! It had been going on over six years; and, the kickbacks to the judges amounted to an amount over $2,000,000.

When solid evidence first was gathered that something was wrong in Luzerne County, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—the one with oversight of all of Pennsylvania’s courts—did nothing. Time and again, when it kept becoming clear that something was wrong in Luzerne, the high court looked the other way. As this Patriot-News editorial recounts.

Finally, the Juvenile Law Center, through the efforts of Levick and Schwarz, was able to break through at least one organ of government (the FBI). And from there, the whole conspiracy fell apart, with two Common Pleas judges being arrested, and properly sentenced for their crimes they committed while on the bench. Properly, aside from the fact that they can’t get death for what they did. Back at common law, all felonies were punishable by death. It’s a shame that a lot of these back-in-the-olden-days-style judges can’t get the punishment that fits their time.

But just sending Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, the two disgraced and disgraceful judges, away wasn’t the end of it. What Levick and Schwarz next did was to get the several thousand juvenile convictions expunged from the victims’ records.

In typical Pennsylvania fashion, I guess the powers-that-be felt that once the Feds had nailed two of their buddies and scandalized the whole court system, then that was enough. (Maybe typical thinking in an in-bred kind of place.) But true justice required that at least the part of the damage done, which could be undone, should be undone. And so it was.

But again, not without the help of dedicated lawyers. They came from Temple Law.

P.S. for longtime readers of my blog: Remember the infamous (to this blog) Mary Elizabeth Connors, 80’s era principal at Bridgewater-Raritan NJ’s high school? Guess where she originally hailed from? Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The people of that county have a serious problem with respecting the dignity the young people, as well as misfeasance/malfeasance in any role that involves the government.

Not to make a blanket indictment, since I realize that Luzerne is also a hard-scrabble, 19th century immigrant place where the people faced a considerable number of hardships just trying to make it in America. Coal mine country, you can picture the rest. But I don’t just think it’s in the water that damn near every person or bit of news coming out of the area usually involves doing something bad with teenagers and abuse of power entrusted by government.

It’s something twisted in the civic culture of the place. For Pennsylvanians that they are, a little bit of Quaker introspection might do the community a ton of good.

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