U.S. Supreme Court denies Ciavarella petition, won’t hear appeal

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
Ciavarella Ciavarella -

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t take up the case of former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella in its new term.

Monday’s denial by the nation’s highest court was the second for Ciavarella who’s serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the juvenile justice scandal that was featured in the “Kids for Cash” documentary.

Without explanation, the Supreme Court denied Ciavarella’s petition for writ of certiorari, leaving him to face a retrial on charges stemming from his time on the bench. Ciavarella, 69, an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky., has been serving a 28-year sentence, but it could be reduced pending the outcome of the trial, which is yet to be scheduled.

A jury in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton convicted him in 2011 on 10 of 39 counts related to the scandal that prosecutors said was connected to nearly $3 million in kickbacks for the construction of two, private for-profit juvenile detention centers in Pittston Township and Butler County.

Former county judge Michael Conahan pleaded guilty in 2010 to racketeering in connection with the scandal. Conahan, 67, has been serving a 17½ sentence at the FCI Miami.

In 2013 Ciavarella took his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit that vacated a charge of honest services mail fraud on the grounds it was beyond the five-year statute of limitations. The other charges and verdict were affirmed, however. The following year, the Supreme Court denied his first petition for review.

Continuing to challenge his conviction, Ciavarella sought an ineffective counsel claim, saying his trial lawyers did not raise a statute of limitations defense. In January 2018 the trial court ordered that he be retried on racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to launder money, leading to another appeal to the 3rd Circuit.

Earlier this year the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, leading Ciavarella to turn again to the Supreme Court. He maintained that the appellate court tied the kickbacks to lengthy periods of detention even though there was no evidence presented at trial to support that position. He also argued a 2016 Supreme Court ruling on conduct outside official acts applied to his dealings with developer Robert Mericle and former Butler Township attorney Robert Powell that led to the construction of the detention centers.

In a move counter to his appeals, Ciavarella last month agreed to resign from the state bar, leaving it up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to disbar him.


By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.