WILKES-BARRE – Voting will be in secret on Friday when nine Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judges elect a new president judge.
The vote is scheduled to take place one week after embattled Judge Mark A. Ciavarella resigned the position in anticipation of the federal charges that were filed Monday against him and former President Judge Michael T. Conahan. The two are accused of concealing more than $2.6 million in kickbacks in connection with the PA Child Care and Western Pa Child Care juvenile detention facilities.
Federal authorities allege Ciavarella and Conahan accepted money in return for rulings that financially benefited the businesses.
Conahan retired in 2007 and became a senior judge.
Senior judges are not eligible to vote for president judge, according to state law.
Judge Chester B. Muroski, as the longest-serving judge, accepted the role of acting president judge on Monday. He said the judges will vote at noon Friday in Courtroom 6 at the courthouse.
There is a possibility that Ciavarella won’t be eligible to cast a vote for his successor.
Joseph Massa Jr., chief counsel for the state Judicial Conduct Board, said on Tuesday that the board will file a petition to suspend Ciavarella if the state Supreme Court does not take the action first. If Ciavarella is suspended by Friday, he won’t be permitted to vote.
Ciavarella was elected president judge in December 2006, succeeding Conahan.
The president judge oversees the common pleas judges, district judges and departments associated with the court such as probation. The position is a five-year term that includes a salary of $1,000 more than the standard judicial salary of $149,000. The president judge has the power to make appointments, and judicial assignments. The president judge also sits on the county’s salary board with the three county commissioners and county controller.
Of the eight judges eligible to vote on Friday, Joseph Augello is the only one to have served as president judge; his tenure was from 1996 to 2001.
Augello and judges Michael Toole, Hugh Mundy, David Lupas and Joseph Musto couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr. declined to comment, explaining talks about the issue “are for private discussions.”
Muroski declined comment through a spokesperson.
When Muroski assumed the role of acting president judge on Monday, he expressed his desire to terminate the lawsuit Ciavarella filed against county commissioners over budget cutbacks directed at the court system.
Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said Muroski was speaking on behalf of all judges.
“We had an informal meeting on Monday before Judge Muroski spoke,” Olszewski said. “Those comments were circulated, reviewed, changed and revised. They are views of the entire Court of Common Pleas.
“The lawsuit must be withdrawn and the budget must be resolved to restore the spirit of cooperation between the court and county commissioners,” Olszewski said.
Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas has nine judges eligible to vote for president judge:
Joseph M. Augello, 59, appointed by governor in 1990; won seat in November 1991 election; retained in 2001.
Thomas F. Burke Jr., 62, appointed by governor in 1998; won seat in November 1999 election; up for retention this year.
Hugh Mundy, 68, won seat in November 1991 election; retained in 2001.
Chester B. Muroski, 69, won seat in November 1981 election; retained in 1991 and 2001.
Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., 49, won seat in November 1999 election; up for retention this year.
David W. Lupas, 44, won seat in November 2007 election.
Michael Toole, 48, won seat in November 2003 election.
Joseph Musto, 65, appointed by governor in 1992; lost election in 1993; appointed by governor in 2008.
Mark A. Ciavarella, 58, won seat in November 1995 election; retained in 2005; resigned as president judge Friday.