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Attorneys for the plaintiffs deliver closing arguments in Pa. ‘Kids for Cash’ scandal following more than 300 survivors testify in a civil hearing

By: Anapol Weiss

The civil hearing to assess damages in Pennsylvania’s ‘Kids for Cash’ scandal concluded with closing arguments on October 25th in the federal courthouse in Wilkes-Barre against two judges at the center of the scandal that goes back to 2003.

More than 300 survivors shared their stories. The three weeks-long hearing finished with Sol H. Weiss, a named partner with Anapol Weiss and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, delivering his closing arguments. The ruling is now expected to be issued in early 2022.

In 2011, former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. was convicted for participating in a conspiracy and receiving almost $2.7 million in kickbacks for sending juveniles to detention centers, which were privately run. A year earlier former Judge Michael T Conahan plead guilty to many of the same charges. These youths were convicted without any justification and often without being appointed an attorney to represent them.

These juveniles’ crimes ranged from fighting at school to even a case of a boy stealing a Hershey bar. The boy in question later committed suicide after being in and out of detention from the age of 14 to 18 years old. His mother indicated that if not for Conahan and Ciavarella’s victimization, her son would still be alive. Ciavarella was sentenced to serve a 28-year sentence in prison, while Conahan has already been released due to COVID-19 concerns and is serving his remaining time at home. The plaintiffs in the civil case, which are primarily former juvenile defendants and their parents, can now argue for financial damages.

However, this is not the first time the issue of damages has come up in this case. In 2015, Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo issued a final approval for a $4.75 million settlement in the civil case between Robert J. Powell and the juveniles sent to his detention center by the Luzerne County judges. This settlement was the third for the victims of the Kids-for-Cash scandal.

In addition to this Settlement the victims also collected $2.5 million from the Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corporation, Western PA Child Care LLC, and PA Child Care LLC facilities and $17.75 million from Pennsylvania developer Robert Mericle.

Weiss asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner to award additional compensatory damages to every person who testified and also consider awarding punitive damages in addition to any award.

During his closing remarks, Weiss reminded the Judge of testimony from these plaintiffs, showing their photos at the time of their arrest and discussing how they were affected by Ciavarella’s sentence. He also listed some of the consequences many of the juveniles suffered because of the detentions, indicating that many have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, many have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and around 65 of these youth have dropped out of high school.

Weiss also pointed out the stark differences between what these judges have to go through as punishment compared to how these juveniles spent most of their young life, showing pictures of Glen Mills School, a youth detention center, where one child spent five years on a vandalism charge and which the state had to shut down after investigators found a history of child abuse there. He compared these photos to Conahan’s Florida home with its ocean views, where he will get to serve out the rest of his house arrest sentence because he got out of the prison system early.

In addition, these victims testified to all they had lost because of these detention centers. Elizabeth Lorent testified that Ciaveralla sent her to PA Child Care after she was found to have brought a few opioid pills to school. He then sent her to Camp Adams, a juvenile boot camp for a probation violation, when she was 17 years old. This cost her a college scholarship. As a result, she started hanging out with the wrong crowd, especially after losing good friends because their parents did now allow them to be around her anymore.

After Connor listened to Weiss’s closing and the victim’s testimony, he indicated that he did not expect to issue a ruling until early next year because of the magnitude of the case. He said that in addition to the emotional harm, many if not all of the youth suffered “reputational harm… by virtue of being labeled as a bad kid.” He concluded that the impact of this label affected the way many of the plaintiffs were viewed and treated by the rest of the community, resulting in far-reaching ramifications. Consequently, this was another matter that Connor plans to take into consideration before issuing his ruling.

Weiss also hopes that all the victims in the ‘Kids for Cash’ case can finally receive the peace of mind that justice has been served against all of the wrong doers.