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The state Supreme Court on Thursday approved a judge’s recommendation that would erase the criminal records of all juveniles charged with certain minor offenses who appeared before Judge Mark Ciavarella over a five-year period.
The recommendation came from Senior Judge Arthur Grim, who was appointed as a master by the Supreme Court on Feb. 11 to review cases that were heard by Ciavarella.
Ciavarella is awaiting sentencing on a guilty plea for accepting kickbacks in exchange for decisions and rulings that led to use of two privately owned juvenile detention centers.
Ciavarella’s attorney, Al Flora, declined comment.
Thursday’s decision covered the cases of juveniles charged with minor summary offenses and certain low-level misdemeanors, according to the court. Grim will conduct a separate review of cases involving more serious offenses.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Lourdes Rosado, of the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit agency that filed petitions that led to the Supreme Court’s appointment of Grim.
The expungements apply to juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney and who were charged with offenses like shoplifting, graffiti and theft under $200, Rosado said.
Grim also set other conditions to qualify for expungement, such as requiring that the offense stem from a single incident and excluding repeat offenders.
The number of juveniles who fall into this category won’t be known until the records are reviewed, but estimates have ranged in the hundreds.
Unrepresented juveniles and their families deserve this opportunity to “wipe the slate clean,” Rosado said.
“It’s a very big deal. It’s eliminating records that future employers, governments and schools can get access to. Those records can impede kids in getting financial aid for college and getting employment,” Rosado said.
Rosado said juveniles who had more serious charges should not lose hope.
“I want to emphasize that this is the first round,” Rosado said. “The court emphasized that this is the first step in a process.”
Grim said in his recommendation report that a “very substantial number” of juveniles appeared without legal counsel before Ciavarella without “knowingly and intelligently” waiving their right to counsel.
“My investigation has also uncovered evidence that there was routine deprivation of children’s constitutional rights to appear before an impartial tribunal and to have an opportunity to be heard,” Grim wrote.
If that hadn’t happened, the “vast majority” of the cases would have resulted in lesser sanction, which would have allowed the juveniles to get their records erased, he said.
Grim had the option to recommend new hearings, but he said re-litigating the cases wouldn’t serve the community or victims. Prompt action will help right the wrong and restore confidence in the justice system, he wrote.
County President Judge Chester Muroski said he believes Grim made wise use of the “extraordinary power” he was given by the Supreme Court.
“He’s exercising that power in a very reasonable fashion, saving many of these families the additional inconvenience and trauma of having to appear in court,” Muroski said.
Grim’s plan relies heavily on input from the Juvenile Law Center and Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office regarding which records should be expunged.
County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll said the review of juvenile records will be a mammoth task, but her office welcomes the assignment. She said she may need to request additional temporary staff from county commissioners or the state.
“We want to get to the bottom of this and do everything we can as quickly as possible to see that justice is served,” she said.
The Law Center and District Attorney’s Office will review thousands of records from Jan. 1, 2003, to May 31, 2008, according to the order.
Security measures will be put in place to make sure the records remain confidential.
At the Law Center, only four people will be permitted to view the records – Rosado, another attorney and two support personnel. Two attorneys and two support personnel will be provided access from the District Attorney’s Office.
Grim must approve all copying of records, and all records must be stored in a locked file cabinet or restricted location when they’re not being reviewed.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.
Now I hope these kids take this second chance and do something constructive with their lives.
March 27, 2009 at 11:21 AM
Finally a sensible decision.
March 27, 2009 at 12:04 PM
I know a girl who has been in trouble with the P**ck judge for a couple years now...She is a good girl but has encountered so much from the court system that she really should have not gone threw..The poor girl cant even live a normal life and she orginally went in front of him for the most stupidest thing.. A slap on the wrist shouldn't of even waisted he courts time with... Now she is being put done for trying to get her life on track... He needs alot more time than he got and needs to put in a normal jail with the real world for what he did to all those kids..He ruined their lives.....
March 31, 2009 at 10:57 AM
these two judges scarred all of the kids for life. record or no record they lived the nightmare
April 2, 2009 at 8:19 PM
so thay are going to er ase juvenile records my son was put up at camp A for 90 days for putting his name on a wall and i had to pay for him to be there and pay his fine and pay for the P O OFFICER to see him we where only in his court for about 3min and off he went just took him right out of may arms and we will have him call you when he gets there and tell you when you can come and see him it was a long 2wks to see my son
April 2, 2009 at 11:43 PM
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