WILKES-BARRE – Six years ago, Hillary Transue waived her right to an attorney at a juvenile hearing before former Judge Mark Ciavarella, and she was incarcerated for a minor offense.
On Monday, Transue, now 20, said she and her peers should feel vindicated after Gov. Tom Corbett signed two pieces of legislation into law at the Luzerne County Courthouse.
"Four years ago, Pennsylvanians witnessed a scandal that shocked the conscience," Corbett said, referring to the 2008 indictments of two former county judges, Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. "Now, we are taking action to prevent future injustice against our children."
The bills, Senate bills 815 and 818, sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, require that legal counsel be present at juvenile delinquency hearings for juveniles under 14.
Those 14 and older may waive their right to counsel, but only in limited circumstances.
That bill, Corbett said, becomes effective in 60 days.
Bill 818 requires a judge to state why each juvenile received the disposition they were given. If that juvenile is committed to an out-of-home placement, a judge must name the facility and give reasoning behind why that facility was selected, Baker said.
It is effective immediately.
"What we do here (today) will protect kids in the future," Baker said, thanking Corbett, fellow legislators and current Luzerne County judges. "And, thank you to the kids and parents who had the courage to come forward and say this is not right."
Baker said two other bills are expected to be presented for votes soon:
• One that limits the use of shackles and restraints used on juveniles.
• Another that would address the requirement of statistical data on juvenile justice.
Luzerne County President Judge Thomas Burke said the laws are "clearly a step forward" for those involved in the juvenile justice system.
Lourdes M. Rosado, associate director of Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, was also on hand Monday to thank those involved.
"This is an important issue," Rosado said. "A special thanks goes to Sen. Baker. She said she was going to do something about this, and she did."
Transue, of White Haven, said thanks to the Juvenile Law Center, she was able to speak out and have someone stand behind her while other juveniles didn't.
"We're nobody, and now we got to meet the governor," Transue's mother, Laurene Transue said. "(Legislators) will take action if you speak out. (Today) is definitely a huge step."
Hillary Transue was 15 when she was sent away for posting a fake MySpace social networking page that mocked a school official. She waived her right to counsel and Ciavarella incarcerated her after she pleaded guilty to harassment.
In 2007, they told the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia about their case, which was instrumental in bringing the suits against the former judges.
Lawsuits against the judges allege Ciavarella and Conahan conspired to jail juveniles to increase profits at a privately run juvenile detention center.
Ciavarella is serving 28 years in federal prison, while Conahan is serving 17 1/2 years.
"You can trust the government if you speak out," Laurene Transue said. "Things will get better."