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Legislators: Halt judge’s pension

Baker and Yudichak ask State Retirement System to hold Ciavarella’s pension request.

State Sen. Lisa Baker and state Rep. John Yudichak have asked the State Employees’ Retirement System to “use all of its powers” to freeze former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella’s pension request.

In a letter dated April 2 to Nicholas J. Maiale, chairman of the state agency, Baker and Yudichak said they “respectfully urge in the strongest possible terms” that Ciavarella’s request be denied.

“This disgraced judge is arrogant and continues to show contemptible behavior,” Baker said Thursday. “He doesn’t get it.”

Ciavarella has applied to receive a $6,800 monthly pension, even though he has admitted to wrongdoing, Yudichak said in a prepared release, adding that former Judge Michael T. Conahan has been collecting an $8,073 monthly pension benefit from the state since he retired in January 2008.

“We want them to step back and examine what has happened here and what can be done,” Yudichak said. “We want to see if current state law would allow denying this request.”

Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty on Feb. 12 to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks in relation to two private juvenile detention centers.

Baker said she finds it “outrageous” to think that Ciavarella believes he is entitled to any compensation in light of his actions and what he pled guilty to. “I believe we need to take steps to ensure that public officials who engage in corruption don’t have the ability to deceive the people further,” she said.

In the letter, Yudichak and Baker state: “The people of Luzerne County are outraged over the corrupt practices Judge Ciavarella engaged in for many years. The victims number in the thousands, and the damage done to families and to public confidence in government and the justice system is extensive.”

Baker and Yudichak said many people have paid “a high price” for Ciavarella’s crimes. The legislators said the public is “further incensed” over Ciavarella’s attempt to protect part of his public pension from forfeiture.

“The belief is widespread that he is not owed anything,” Yudichak and Baker wrote, “and that his criminal misconduct does not warrant favorable consideration of his request.”

The letter notes that a sentencing date has not been set for Ciavarella and if he is allowed access to pension funds, he could collect a substantial amount of money that would be difficult to recover through restitution or civil suits.

“(Ciavarella’s) attempts to wriggle off the hook of legal and financial responsibility for his misdeeds are disgraceful,” the letter stated. “It would be an insult to the community if he has the chance to realize pension benefits.”

Baker and Yudichak said it would be extremely unfair and unjust to the crime victims, taxpayers and to the public interest if the former judge is allowed to collect any pension benefits.

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