As I stated the Legal Intelligencer has more than their ear to the ground on the Luzerne County corruption probe. Here is more information from their outstanding reporting about suspected case-fixing that makes for very interesting reading.
One insurance defense lawyer who works in-house for a major insurance carrier in Luzerne County said the effort to control the appointment of neutral arbitrators was more regimented. He claimed to recall that in about 2003 an order was printed in the Luzerne County Register, a weekly publication of the Luzerne County Law and Library Association, that directed all petitions to appoint neutral arbitrators to be brought before Conahan, who was then president judge. Later, a similar order was allegedly published directing such petitions to Ciavarella, who was elected president judge in 2006.
"If I knew what I know now, I should have saved those and bronzed them," the attorney said.
Leo Strupczewski and Peter Hall of The Legal Intelligencer took a closer look at the docket.
According to court records examined by The Legal Intelligencer involving a selected group of 10 major auto insurance companies, plaintiffs lawyers filed petitions to appoint neutral arbitrators on 43 occasions between 1995 and 2008.
In 29 of those cases, the same six law firms represented the plaintiffs. In 13 of the 43 cases, attorneys from the same six firms, all of which market themselves as plaintiffs firms, were also appointed as neutral arbitrators. Twice, there were no records for plaintiffs attorneys. The names of the appointed arbitrators were not recorded in seven cases.
In 22 of the 43 cases, the judge was either Conahan or Ciavarella. There was no record of a judge in two of those cases.
The outcome of arbitration in which the lawyers named participated is not a public record. There is no evidence to suggest that the result of arbitration in the cases examined was improper. Nor is there anything to suggest plaintiffs law firms did anything improper to be appointed neutral arbitrators. Ciavarella and Conahan have not been charged with anything related to allegations of case fixing UM/UIM cases.
In one of the cases reassigned from Lokuta to Ciavarella, Pockevich v. Lindstrom, a jury returned a $352,500 verdict that included no economic damages. The verdict included $250,000 for past and future emotional distress, $75,000 for loss of life's pleasures and $27,500 for pain and suffering. The verdict came after Ciavarella granted a plaintiff's motion to preclude a defense psychiatric expert from testifying.
The lawyer with the Philadelphia defense firm said he often perceived the appointment of neutral arbitrators to be predetermined, even when he had a chance to weigh in.
"I've submitted lists of 25 to 30 names of extraordinarily qualified judges and lawyers as arbitrators," he said. "They'd all be rejected."
The in-house lawyer said he has also grown accustomed to reasonable suggestions being rejected.
"I've recommended [former] Supreme Court Justice [Russell M.] Nigro and they've rejected him," he said. "I've recommended these guys who are fairer than the day is long and they've rejected them."
"It's beyond coincidence that these guys constantly got each other as neutrals," the lawyer said.
If there have been improprieties in the conduct of Luzerne County insurance arbitration, it would be very difficult to prove, the lawyer with the Philadelphia firm said.