BURIED IN THE election hubbub of late are the latest maneuverings of Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., an alleged participant in the “kids-for-cash scandal” whose lawyer has requested the federal government pay for the ex-Luzerne County judge’s legal fees.
With this formal request, the former president judge appears to be redefining the cliché “adding insult to injury.”
The issue was reported by The Times Leader in an article about a pre-trial conference regarding the government’s corruption case. Among those present were William Russo, one of Ciavarella’s lawyers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod and presiding U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik.
Ciavarella is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 7 – two full years after initially being charged – on corruption charges stemming from allegations that he and former judge Michael T. Conahan accepted $2.8 million. In return, they allegedly conspired to incarcerate juveniles at detention centers co-owned by a friend.
Conahan pleaded guilty in July to one count of racketeering conspiracy. He has indicated he is willing to testify against Ciavarella, according to a transcript of a pre-trial conference held before Kosik in August.
Separately, the state Supreme Court has expunged the records of thousands of juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella over a five-year span because it was deemed, in many instances, those youths had not received proper legal representation.
Now, in a case that already has stretched the bounds of believability, Ciavarella’s lawyer is trying to make a case that Ciavarella can’t afford to pay his defense team. Though Ciavarella earned around $165,000 annually as a judge, Russo, in essence, is pleading poverty on behalf of his client.
Central to the defense argument is that more than $250,000 Ciavarella contributed to his state pension fund has been frozen because of the charges pending. Through his lawyers, Ciavarella is trying to gain access to that money.
The prosecutor argued there is evidence that Ciavarella has placed assets in the names of others. For starters, Zubrod noted the ex-judge sold his Wright Township home and gave the money to his daughter.
Considering the circumstances, it seems fitting that if Ciavarella wants to defend his actions, he should do it on his dime, not ours.