Monday, February 16, 2009

2/12/209 CBSNews 2 Pa. Judges Admit Jailing Kids For Cash

2 Pa. Judges Admit Jailing Kids For Cash
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Feb. 12, 2009

(CBS/ AP) Two Pennsylvania judges charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send youth offenders to privately run detention centers pleaded guilty to fraud Thursday in one of the most stunning cases of judicial corruption on record.

Prosecutors allege Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, possibly tainting the convictions of thousands of juvenile offenders.

The judges pleaded guilty in federal court in Scranton to honest services fraud and tax fraud. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years in prison. They were permitted to remain free pending sentencing.

The gray-haired jurists said little at Thursday's hearing, and declined to comment to reporters afterward.

Prosecutors described a scheme in which Conahan, the former president judge of Luzerne County, shut down the county-owned juvenile detention center in 2002 and signed an agreement with PA Child Care LLC to send youth offenders to its new facility outside Wilkes-Barre.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent youths to the detention center while he was taking payments, prosecutors said.

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters' constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before, and some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it. Many of the youths didn't have attorneys.

Ciavarella has specifically denied sending kids to jail for cash, and had indicated he would not go through with the guilty plea if the government offered that as evidence.

Thus prosecutors left out any mention Thursday of a quid pro quo, presenting only enough evidence to establish that crimes had occurred.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubron said after the hearing that the government continues to allege a quid pro quo. "We're not negotiating that, no. We're not backing off," he said.

The prosecutor said it will be up to U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik to settle the matter. Kosik could reject the proposed sentence as too light if he decides there was a quid pro quo.

"I think there will be significant disagreements as to what the facts are," Zubrod said. "Was there a connection between the payments and the money, and young people going to prison? Those are issues that are going to be addressed later by the court. There's going to be plenty of time to fight about that."

The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

Fifteen-year-old Bernadine Wallace was sentenced to a month in lock-up for a threatening note she posted on her MySpace page, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

"I was thinking to myself, 'I don't deserve this. I don't think that I did that much wrong. I'm not a criminal'," she said.

"You saw the judges come out of court today. How were you feeling?" Doane asked Wallace's mother.

"Angry," Flo Wallace said. "How did they get to walk out with all these charges? When she went in front of them, she got out of shackles."

Kurt Kruger, now 22, pictured at left, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn't know his friend was going to steal anything.

Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator.

"Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed," said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college.

"I got a raw deal, and yeah, it's not fair," he said, "but now it's 100 times bigger than me."

© MMIX, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email to a whistle blower group

Thanks for adding me to this list, and here is for you - a story to tell:

A. Petition to free the LA-FIPs
We just started a petition. Our mission is to free the LA-FIP's - the Los Angeles Falsely Imprisoned People:

B. Who are the LA-FIPs? Are they truly extra-terrestrial?
No, they are humans, like you and me! Therefore, they are entitled to the rights that are enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), ratified by the United Nations General Assembly, which as incorporated into the International Covenants of Rights (1976), holds the force of International Law. The LA-FIPs designates only those prisoners in Los Angeles, who were proven innocent in the RAMPART scandal (1998-2000) investigations, but are still imprisoned today, 10 years later. The essence of that scandal was the discovery that police in an undercover narcotics unit in the RAMPART station were involved in the routine production of evidence through framing, and torture was also used to extract confessions that led to a large number of convictions in the criminal courts in Los Angeles and long-term prison sentences. As shown in the video, ethnic biases were also at play.

This is what some legal authoritative had to say about it in 2000:
  • “…judges tried and sentenced a staggering number of people for crimes they did not commit. How could so many participants in the criminal justice system have failed either to recognize or to instigate any meaningful scrutiny of such appalling and repeated perversions of justice?” “…we felt a particular obligation to ensure that no aspect of the Los Angeles criminal justice system, including the lawyers and judges, escaped scrutiny.” 
  • David W. Burcham, then Dean, today Provost, and Catherine L. Fisk, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles (2000)
  • “Any analysis of the Rampart scandal must begin with an appreciation of the heinous nature of what the officers did. This is conduct associated with the most repressive dictators and police states. “ “…and judges must share responsibility when innocent people are convicted.”
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, today Dean of Irvine Law School (2000)

C. Are you sure that they are still imprisoned? It sounds like a post-scandal scandal...
I rely on official reports of the LAPD:
According to the most recent official report, of the BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PANEL (2006) only a minute fraction of them were released. And there must be many others as well, since the official investigation was deliberately restricted only to the RAMPART station, in order to justify what was described to the public under the official title of "RAMPART-AREA CORRUPTION INCIDENT". The same report shows that the name itself is false and misleading: The conduct that was investigated was not a "CORRUPTION INCIDENT", but rather - common conduct over a long time period, and it was not RAMPART-AREA-specific either the evidence demonstrated that is was also found in others stations. Regardless, by LA-FIPs we are talking only about the ones that were confirmed innocent through the Rampart scandal investigations. After the major initial investigation, there were some 4-5 official review panels, and they all came to the same conclusion - that these people were and are innocent and should and must be freed.

But to this date, they are still imprisoned.

D. So why are they still in prison 10 years later?
At the end, more than 70 police were found involved, and in 2000 the four first indicted police were prosecuted by the LA District Attorney, and three of the four were convicted in a jury trial, and sentenced. However, a few weeks later, the trial judge, JACQUELINE A CONNOR, in a remarkable display of honesty, issued an unusual ruling from home, in the evening, on December 23, 2000:
  • "Evidence available to the court suggests that in fact the jurors were misdirected in the law, that the law was misapplied and that the misapplication resulted in the denial of a fair trial on the merits...
  • "The court does conclude that there was jury misconduct, though unintentional, misguided and inadvertent, in the consideration of improper facts.  While recognizing the enormous pressure on the community, on the police force, on the district  attorney’s office and on the courts to “fix” the Rampart scandal, this court is only interested in evaluating the fairness of the proceedings in this court and determining whether justice was done  in this case. This court cannot and should not consider the political ramifications of future lawsuits or  future prosecutions. The defense in this case has presented compelling arguments to support their  argument that the defendants did not receive a fair trial.  The court cannot simply look the other way and ignore the improprieties, innocent or not, intentional or unintentional, that served to deny a fair trial in this case.  
  • While the court cannot and will not presume to guess whether a correction of the errors would result in any different verdict, it most certainly concludes that the verdicts in this case cannot stand."
From the perspective of time, it appears that with that, any attempt to"fix" the Rampart scandal came to an end. The police never even completed its investigation report. The 2006 BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PANEL report describes in detail how police, judges and prosecutors prevent their release of the LA-FIPs. The official investigation operated, so it appears, with the underlying paradigm that the police were corrupt, but the judges were "duped". The BLUE RIBBON REPORT describes them as a united front today in resistance to freeing the LA-FIPs.

E. How many are they? Is it at all a significant issue with everything else that it going on today?
I was hesitating to use any number, because all numbers are estimates. The BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PANEL finds it remarkable finding in and of itself, that after several extensive reviews, including their own, there is no good data even regarding the scope of the problem. Initially I thought it was around 2,000, but eventually I used the figure of 10,000. People reacted as if I fell off the roof. Finally, I found a 2001 PBS broadcast that quoted two estimates: By prosecutors: 8,000, and by defense attorneys: 15,000. Elsewhere I found an estimate by other advocates: 30,000. Therefore, I find my estimate of 10,000, derived independently of these numbers, as falling on the conservative side.
No good figures are available for the Guantanamo detentions either, but my estimate is that they involved no more than 750 people, and much shorter period of time. Of note, they two take place at the same time, albeit one justified by various legal arguments. I am not familiar of any true legal arguments that were ever raised for the continued false imprisonments in Los Angeles. I was simply never "fixed". It is a disgrace of historic proportions.

The Blue Ribbon Review Panel is the latest I know of:
The beginning is review of the work of previous committees, it starts getting interesting around the middle.

F, Was nothing was done at all?

That would not be a correct statement. The same report documents remarkable efforts by police to address the causes of the scandal. The Rampart station itself was rebuilt from scratch in a new location. It has nice and clean design, well-trained staff, and it implements innovative management and leadership models. It is a show piece.
Additionally, a number of review panels were established and published reports. One distinction of the report of the 2006 BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PANEL is that they clearly stated that they considered all previous reviews failures, and their own as well. Instead they called for an external review.

G. Why does the petition ask only access to some papers? What difference does it make?
You should not ask for what they cannot give...
My analysis of the previous committee reports and also reports of the U.S. Judge Overseer (appointed in 2001 to supervise the LAPD relative to respect and observance of Civil Rights) is that their failure stemmed from the same problem that cripples the justice system in L.A. in general: The courts took the liberty around 1985, while introducing computers to the courts, of removing from public access the critical data bases that were known for generations as the BOOKS of COURT. They are also the critical guarantee for the integrity of any court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark decision Nixon v Warner Communications, Inc (1978), affirmed the public's right to access judicial records, to inspect and to copy. It determined that such right precedes even the U.S. Constitution, and established it as a Common Law Right. Furthermore, already that decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was not about paper at all, but about digital or electronic media - the Nixon Tapes. And yet, in the transition from paper to digital media around 1985, the L.A. Superior Court took the liberty of removing all such records from public access. And the judges themselves, under the California Oath of Office and the legal community in LA allowed it to continue unchecked for over a quarter century.

Releasing the LA-FIPs is a mandate that is complex in nature, and it would be difficult to enforce it in court and in practice, especially with the names and numbers unknown - since the books are inaccessible. In contrast, the demand to enforce Common Law Right of access to inspect and to copy is straight forward, each of the 10 millions who reside in LA County, in fact Every Person has standing to demand this right, and the U.S. government and its agencies are required to protect these rights, it is not optional. Finally - last summer-fall, my request for a Special Counsel to review the conduct of the L.A. Superior Court went all the way up the Director of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Assistant Director of the FBI. Their responses, addressed to Congress, I deem false and deliberately misleading. Therefore, the need to limit the request to the minimal that is clearly demonstrable. Another request, submitted to the U.S. Justice Department prior to the November 2008 elections, to restore the Voting Rights of the LA-FIPs went unanswereded.

Regardless of all the statements above, the restoration of the Common Law right of access, in and of itself will have an impact on life in Los Angeles that by far exceeds what most expect.

H. So how is it going to work?
Under the new President there is renewed hope. Nevertheless, first - it was best to stick to the very minimal, but enforceable and clearly demonstrable, short-term demand, and second - international support for such cause is essential. Furthermore, since the respective government agencies, both local, state, and federal, show entire disinterest in protecting rights and enforcing the law, it would be a critical error to leave in to them to finish the job. The petition asks them to do only the minimum which by international law they must do anyway.

Vocal support by international human rights organizations and individual is badly needed. Therefore, this petition does not rely in fact on U.S. Law at all. Instead, it relies on 1) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 2) the Common Law right to access judicial records, to inspect and to copy.

Once access to the books is allowed, I have no doubt that civil rights organizations and members of the public at large will be able to engage in habeas corpus writs that would lead to release of the LA-FIPs within a short time. Absent access to such books, it is impossible to effectively exercise the basic right of habeas corpus. The fact that such conditions were allowed to prevail in Los Angeles for over a quarter century is disturbing. In the absent of access to the Books of Court abuse of rights is not even detectable... it open the door to various abuses of medieval nature - the continued false imprisonment of a mass of anonymous civilians is definitely one of them...

I. What's the bottom line, take home message?
On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Leonore Roosevelt, this is a low point. Sign the petition, ask others to sign, and stay alert, NOTHING that was guaranteed can be taken for granted. The public must be actively involved in protecting its rights against any violation or abuse. The current situation perfectly demonstrates the issue: Once a right was lost, you have to fight to restore it, almost as if it were never granted in the first place... And the basic rights, the ones that appear as mere technicalities, once lost can cause enormous harm.

J. A Call for Action
Please visit the petition site and sign the petition, it's easy:
  • We call upon President Obama to free those who are falsely imprisoned in l.a. for over a decade in the aftermath of the Rampart scandal (98-2000).....the minimum is appointment of a  special counsel to restore public access to public records of the courts, where public access is denied for over a quarter century.
If you would lilke to do more - recruit your friends to sign, bring it to the attention of national and international human rights organizations, that would be greatly appreciated:
  • Southern California ACLU: (Local ACLU support is required for national ACLU action)
  • Amnesty International, USA: (as courtesy, projects determined in London)
  • Amnesty International London HQ: (Mark in subject line: U.S. Research Group)
  • United Nations: (select comments to enter our text) 
You may also place in your web site for the next 2-3 months the Java gadget below that allows people to sign through your web site.