Mark Ciavarella had every right to appeal the conviction that put him in jail for the last six years, and — if not overturned — will keep him there another 22. That doesn’t make him right when he claims he shouldn’t be where he is.
Ciavarella has been the master of denial since the moment he got entangled in the so-called “Kids for Cash” scandal. The disgraced jurist’s appearance before a federal judge in Harrisburg Thursday was just one more example.
The litany of his delusions is long:
• When the developer and co-owner of a private juvenile detention center offered him money, he told himself there would be nothing wrong with accepting it, even though he would be sending juveniles deemed delinquent to that facility.
• Ciavarella initially struck a plea bargain that would have limited his prison time to seven years and change. He would have been free or on the verge of it next year. But he insisted he couldn’t accept the deal because he could not let the “kids for cash” accusation go unchallenged.
• At the resultant trial, Ciavarella admitted he took the money, admitted he tried to hide the money, and admitted he sent children to the facility. But he adamantly denied any connection between the money he got and placement of the children.
• At his sentencing, the broken record continued. “There was no believable, credible evidence that would establish a connection between the money I received and the children I placed. It never happened.” He also insisted he ran his juvenile court the same way any judge would, even though thousands of his convictions were ultimately vacated.
From this backdrop, Thursday’s hearing emerged, with Ciavarella contending his attorneys had been ineffective in his defense. In particular, he argues, they failed to bring up statute of limitation concerns that could have altered his sentence.
The attorneys in question, William Ruzzo and Al Flora, basically admitted as much — a fact that, at first blush, increases the legal odds in favor of Ciavarella. But the devil is very much in the details, and those will be spelled out in additional court briefs ordered by the judge.
In an odd way, contending the sentence is wrong because of the statute of limitations is a bit of a breakthrough for Ciavarella: At least, in this case, he’s not arguing innocence, he’s just arguing it makes no difference because prosecutors took too long to make their case.
But in the end it is another in the ongoing parade of denials, one more contention by Ciavarella that everything in this case was somebody else’s fault.
The logic has become as torturous as it is tiresome. He did no wrong, and if he did wrong he did no crime, and if he did crime he did it too long ago to prosecute, and regardless of what else he did do, he never took money for placing kids in a juvenile facility.
Even if he succeeds this legal round, there remains one vital thing missing from this endless saga, a human component he refuses to add.
A sincere “I’m sorry.”