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Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr.[1]
Born (1950-03-03) March 3, 1950 (age 71)
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Alma materKing's College
Duquesne Law School
OccupationFormer President Judge[2]
Years active1996-2009
SuccessorHon. Chester B. Muroski[3]
Spouse(s)Cindy (Baer) Ciavarella

Mark Arthur Ciavarella Jr. (born March 3, 1950) is a convicted felon (Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate number 15008-067) and former President Judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who committed, along with fellow judge Michael Conahan, the "Kids for cash" scandal in 2008.[4]

In August 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for his involvement in the Kids for Cash scandal.[5]


Ciavarella is a lifelong resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, having been raised in the East End section of the city and attending St. Mary's High School. After graduating from the local King's College he attended Duquesne University School of Law, receiving his law degree in 1975. Ciavarella entered private legal practice, becoming a partner in the firm of Lowery, Ciavarella and Rogers. From 1976 to 1978 he was city solicitor and then from 1978 until 1995 he served as solicitor for the city zoning board. In 1995 he ran for judge in Luzerne County on the Democratic ticket and was elected to a ten year term. He was re-elected to a second ten year term in 2005. Ciavarella was also active in several civic and Catholic organizations. He is married to the former Cindy Baer and the couple have three children.[1]

"Kids-for-cash" scandal

Ciavarella pleaded guilty on February 13, 2009, pursuant to a plea agreement, to federal charges of honest services fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in connection with receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, the co-owner and builder respectively, of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities. In exchange for these kickbacks, Ciavarella sentenced children to extended stays in juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart.[6] More specifically, the crimes charged were: conspiracy to deprive the public of the "intangible right of honest services", or corruption, and conspiracy to defraud the United States by failing to report income to the Internal Revenue Service.[7] Ciavarella tendered his resignation to Governor Ed Rendell on January 23, 2009, prior to official publication of the charges.[2]

The plea agreement[8] called for Ciavarella to serve up to seven years in prison, pay fines and restitution, and accept responsibility for the crimes.[9] However, Ciavarella has denied that there was a connection between the juvenile sentences he rendered and the kickbacks he received.[10][11] In part because of this denial, on July 30, 2009, Judge Edwin M. Kosik of Federal District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania rejected the plea agreement. He ruled that Ciavarella had continued to deny that there was a ‘quid pro quo’ between his receipt of money and his jailing of juveniles, instead characterizing the money as a "finder’s fee" despite what Judge Kosik felt was the weight of the government's evidence.[12] Attorneys for the two judges brought a motion requesting reconsideration of the judge's rejection of the plea agreement.[13] The motion was denied on August 24, and Ciavarella and Conahan withdrew their guilty pleas, an action that could result in a jury trial or additional charges against the former judges.[14]

On September 9, 2009, a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania returned a 48 count indictment against Ciavarella and Conahan,[15] which includes racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations. Both judges were arraigned on the charges on September 15, 2009.[16][17] Ciavarella and Conahan entered pleas of not guilty to the 48 count indictment and remained free on one million dollar bail, despite federal prosecutors contentions that their bail should be raised since they now faced the possibility of substantially more prison time and that there was evidence of their attempts to shield assets.[18]

On February 18, 2011, a jury in federal court found Ciavarella guilty of racketeering. This charge stemmed from Ciavarella accepting $997,000 in illegal payments from Robert Mericle, the real estate developer of PA Child Care, and attorney Robert Powell, a co-owner of the facility. Ciavarella is also on trial for 38 other counts including accepting numerous payments from Mericle and Powell as well as tax evasion.[19]

On August 11, 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. With good behavior, he could be released in less than 24 years, when he would be 85.[20]

Civil lawsuits

Ciavarella is a defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by the Juvenile Law Center on behalf of the juveniles who were adjudicated delinquent by him despite not being represented by counsel or advised of their rights.[21][22] He has moved to dismiss this lawsuit as it pertains to him based on judicial immunity.[23] He is also named as a defendant in three other lawsuits, however, all four lawsuits have been consolidated into one master class action lawsuit which was filed in June and then amended in late August.[24][25]

The plaintiffs, in a 75-page court filing on September 9, argued that the actions of Ciavarella and Conahan should not be "fully shielded by absolutely judicial immunity or legislative immunity", because their actions went beyond their judicial and administrative duties.[26]

Review of judicial rulings

On March 26, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved special master, Senior Judge Arthur Grim's recommendations and ruled that Ciavarella had violated the constitutional rights of thousands of juveniles, and thus ordered hundreds of his juvenile convictions overturned.[27][28]

In early 2009, the Wilkes-Barre daily newspaper The Citizens' Voice accused Judge Ciavarella of improperly concealing a conflict of interest when he rendered a $3.5 million defamation judgment against the paper, and it moved to have the case reopened.[29] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt to conduct hearings into the matter. After two days of testimony in July, Judge Platt recommended that the verdict be vacated and a new trial be conducted. His recommendation was partially based on the fact that Ciavarella admitted that he wrongly presided over cases involving clients of Robert J. Powell, an attorney who paid Ciavarella and Conahan more than $770,000 in kickbacks.[30]

In June 2009, attorneys from Laputka, Bayless, Ecker & Cohn, a Hazleton law firm, are appealing a $3.4 million legal malpractice verdict and wish to supplement the record to indicate that Ciavarella should not have presided over the case and should have recused himself, because of his relationship with Powell, who was the opposing attorney.[31]

In early August, the state Supreme Court ordered Luzerne County President Judge Chester Muroski to review a land dispute case that was dismissed by Ciavarella to determine if the ruling was tainted. First National Community Bank had loaned Ciavarella $848,000 and Conahan sat on the bank's board of directors. Ciavarella dismissed a lawsuit by Emil Malinowski against the bank, a ruling which was upheld by the state Superior Court.[32]

Dr. Ki Bum Lee, M.D. requested that a malpractice suit against him by Debra Sharkey be dropped. In court papers filed in early September, Dr. Lee's attorney, Michael Badowski, said Dr. Lee should also be awarded damages after information recently surfaced regarding Ciavarella, William Sharkey, the former court administrator, and Sharkey’s attorney, Robert Powell. Badowski alleges that Sharkey's first cousin and Ciavarella's co-defendant, Judge Michael Conahan, assigned Ciavarella to the malpractice case and because of the conflict of interest, Ciavarella has continually ruled against the doctor. The lawsuit, originally filed in October 1997, claims Lee malpracticed Debra Sharkey's hysterectomy.[33]

Pension fight

Ciavarella, whose resignation from the bench took effect on March 16, 2009, submitted an application for pension benefits that same day, seeking to withdraw a lump sum of $232,051 that included $51,699 in interest and to begin receiving $5,156 in monthly pension benefits.[34] However, Ciavarella agreed to a federal injunction freezing his pension benefits on or about May 27, 2009. It was requested by the U.S. Attorney's office in order to apply the benefits to restitution to the victims.[35]

Subsequently, the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) denied pension benefits to Ciavarella, reversing its earlier position that he is eligible to receive benefits until he is sentenced. SERS ruled the former judge's guilty pleas to fraud and conspiracy in February provided sufficient grounds to deny the benefits. The agency based its determination on the Pension Forfeiture Act, which allows for the denial of benefits to anyone convicted of certain crimes related to their public employment. SERS also refused to repay Ciavarella the $234,000 he contributed to the retirement system because the state Department of Public Welfare claims he and Conahan are liable for $4.3 million in alleged overpayments it made to two juvenile detention centers.[36][37][38]

Ciavarella has appealed the decision, and his attorney alleges that the withdrawal of his guilty plea aids that appeal since there is now no guilty plea on file.[39]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kanjorski, Paul (March 9, 2006). "Congratulating Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr. as he is named "Man of the Year" by the Wilkes-Barre Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick" (PDF). Congressional Record. Retrieved 2009-08-23.[dead link]
  2. 2.0 2.1 "MEDIA RELEASE: January 26, 2009". Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. January 26, 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-01-12. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  3. "Luzerne County Courts Main Page". Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
  4. Frank, Thomas (April 1, 2009). "Thomas Frank Says 'Kids for Cash' Incentivizes the Prison Industry". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  5. Michael Rubinkam. Pa. judge gets 28 years in 'kids for cash' case[dead link]. The Associated Press
  6. "". External link in |title= (help)
  7. "Text of U.S. Attorney's charges against Ciavarella and Conahan" (PDF). U.S. Department of Justice for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. January 26, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  8. "Ciavarella Plea Agreement, January 26, 2009" (PDF). 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  9. Urbina, Ian (March 27, 2009). "Despite Red Flags, Judges Ran Kickback Scheme for Years". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  10. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie. "What precisely did 2 judges do? Data contradicts Ciavarella's contention there was no 'quid pro quo' scheme at work" (in August 24 and 2009). Retrieved 2009-09-06.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)[dead link]
  11. Leo Strupczewski (February 13, 2009). "2 Pa. Judges Plead Guilty in Cash-for-Kids Corruption Scandal". The Legal Intelligencer. Retrieved 2009-08-32. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  12. Urbina, Ian (July 31, 2009). "Plea Agreement by 2 Judges Is Rejected In Pennsylvania". New York Times.
  13. Leo Strupczewski and Hank Grezlak (August 21, 2009). "Former Pa. Judges Ask for Reconsideration of Rejected Pleas". The Legal Intelligencer.
  14. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (August 25, 2009). "Judges withdraw guilty pleas". Wikes-Barre Times Leader. Retrieved 2009-08-25.[dead link]
  15. "Indictment - USA v. Conahan and Ciavarella" (PDF). September 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-12.[dead link]
  16. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (September 10, 2009). "Ex-judges hit with 48 counts". Times Leader. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  17. "U.S. Attorney's Office News Release" (PDF). September 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  18. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (September 16, 2009). "Ex-jurists plea, still free Magistrate judge declines to raise bail. Federal prosecutors see Conahan, Ciavarella as flight risks". Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  19. "Jury finds Ciavarella guilty on first of 39 counts". The Times Leader. February 18, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-18.[dead link]
  20. Michael Sisak (August 13, 2011). "Ex-judge awaits transport in Philly". Standard Speaker. Retrieved 2011-08-13. line feed character in |publisher= at position 9 (help)
  21. "Juvenile Law Center Files Federal Class Action Complaint on Behalf of Affected Luzerne County Children and Families". Juvenile Law Center. February 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  22. Urbina, Ian (February 13, 2009). "Suit Names 2 Judges Accused in a Kickback Case". New York Tiimes. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  23. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (April 1, 2009). "Ciavarella moves to dismiss lawsuit". Archived from the original on 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  24. Sisak, Michael (June 11, 2009). "Attorneys agree to a consolidated lawsuit against Ciavarella, Conahan". The Citizen's Voice. Retrieved 2009-09-06.[dead link]
  25. "Amended Master Complaint" (PDF). August 27, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  26. Sisak, Michael (September 11, 2009). "Disgraced jurists should not get judicial immunity, attorney says". The Citizen's Voice. Retrieved 2009-09-12.[dead link]
  27. "Court Tosses Convictions Of Corrupt Judge". March 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  28. Learn-Andes, Jennifer (March 27, 2009). "Juvenile records to be erased". Wikes-Barre Times Leader. Archived from the original on 2009-04-06. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  29. Michael Rubinkam (February 19, 2009). "Paper: $3.5M Defamation Award Fixed by Pa. Judge". ABC News. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04.
  30. Dave Janoski (August 5, 2009). "Judge recommends defamation case be retried". Standard Speaker. line feed character in |publisher= at position 9 (help)[dead link]
  31. Sisak, Michael (June 17, 2009). "Law firm seeks incorporate Powell guilty plea in campaign to overturn verdict". The Citizens' Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19.
  32. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (August 7, 2009). "Ciavarella ruling reviewed Pa. Supreme Court wants President Judge Muroski to take another look at land dispute case involving bank". Retrieved 2009-09-07.[dead link]
  33. Delazio, Sheena (September 5, 2009). "Doctor: Ciavarella had conflict in his case Malpractice case was filed by wife of William Sharkey, the former court administrator". Retrieved 2009-09-06.[dead link]
  34. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (April 11, 2009). "Ex-judge may net $50,000 - Timing of Ciavarella's resignation may enable him to keep pension interest". Retrieved 2009-09-06.[dead link]
  35. "Judge Orders Ciavarella's Pension Fund Frozen". WNEP-TV. May 27, 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-06-01. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  36. Janoski, Dave (June 16, 2009). "No pension for disgraced judges". The Citizen's Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  37. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (June 16, 2009). "Two ex-judges denied pensions Ciavarella, Conahan may have to pay state $4.3M". Retrieved 2009-09-06.[dead link]
  38. Janoski, Dave (June 15, 2009). "State seeks $4.3 M from Conahan, Ciavarella". The Citizen's Voice. Archived from the original on 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  39. Morgan-Besecker, Terrie (August 26, 2009). "Ex-judge in fight to restore pension - With guilty plea gone, benefits case stronger, says Ciavarella lawyer". Archived from the original on 2010-03-31. Retrieved 2009-09-06.

External links