Today's indictment of former judges Conahan and Ciavarella underscores a rampant judiciary that evaded scrutiny for years. According to the Legal Intelligencer a detailed complaint was filed against one of the judges in 2006.
The Legal Intelligencer
By Hank Grezlak And Leo Strupczewski
September 09, 2009
A detailed complaint was filed against former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan with the Judicial Conduct Board in 2006, alleging wide-spread corruption including case-fixing, mob ties and the improper placement of juveniles in a privately owned juvenile detention facility.
The same anonymous complaint was also sent to and received by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg around the same time in the fall of 2006, sources have confirmed to The Legal.
Publicly, there is no evidence the JCB did anything with the complaint.
The reporters detail more of the complaint and details surrounding it.
The complaint lays out a number of allegations the federal government has already made against the judges or that sources have made to The Legal. It portrays a culture of rampant case-fixing in both civil and criminal cases, providing specific names of attorneys and cases, as well as case numbers.
More importantly, given that it was filed in late 2006 — more than two years before Conahan and Ciavarella were accused by the government of taking $2.6 million from attorney Robert Powell, co-owner of PA Child Care, and Robert Mericle, the facility's builder — it lays out the close relationship between the former judges and Powell, including trips to a condominium in Florida and the use of Powell's yacht, "Reel Justice."
The complaint also ties them to the increased placement of juveniles at PA Child Care.
"Attorney Robert Powell is co-owner of [PA Child Care]. When Judge Conahan became president judge, he assigned Judge Ciavarella to Juvenile Court, while in the past, Juvenile responsibilities were shared among Judge [Chester B.] Muroski and at times, Judge [Ann H.] Lokuta," the complaint alleges. "A stringent pattern of placement in the Powell owned facility can be readily revealed by reviewing Judge Ciavarella's placements. In the past, the other judges placed in a variety of facilities ... ."
The complaint also alleges that Conahan and a local attorney regularly met with reputed mob boss William "Billy" D'Elia, something that witnesses have testified to in open court and other sources have told The Legal in the past.
The existence of the complaint and its timing raises serious questions about what the JCB did with the complaint, whether its board members were aware of it, and why the JCB allowed the two former judges to testify against former Luzerne County Judge Ann H. Lokuta in the board's case against her.
Lokuta raised a serious allegation about the case against her with Pennsylvania's highest court as reported on August 22, 2009.
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker firstname.lastname@example.org
Law & Order Reporter
HARRISBURG – Former Luzerne County judge Ann Lokuta has asked the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of her case from the Court of Judicial Discipline, alleging the disciplinary court has shown a bias toward her in its rulings.
The petition, filed Thursday, alleges the disciplinary court has failed to follow the Supreme Court’s directive regarding the standard of review it should apply in reexamining Lokuta’s misconduct case.
It also again challenges the refusal of attorney Richard Sprague, who headed the panel, to recuse himself given his representation of Robert Powell, one of the key figures in the judicial corruption probe.
Likewise the Scranton Times chronicles the events prior to the judge's arrest.
The Court of Judicial Discipline held a hearing May 13 and granted Ms. Lokuta 90 days to collect evidence related to a narrow scope of "corruption," related to the charges against Mr. Conahan, Mr. Ciavarella and Mr. Sharkey - all key witnesses against her at her misconduct hearing.
The court blocked Ms. Lokuta and her attorneys from issuing subpoenas, leaving them "both hog-tied and hamstrung in a travesty of justice that threatens to pull the judicial process into further disrepute," she alleges.
Efforts to reach Frank Puskas, deputy chief counsel for the Judicial Conduct Board, the state agency that investigates and prosecutes allegations of ethical violations against judges, were unsuccessful Friday.
Judge Sprague, who has represented another corruption figure - Drums attorney and former detention center co-owner Robert J. Powell - has refused to leave the case despite mounting evidence of "at the very least, an appearance of impropriety," Ms. Lokuta claims.