Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Hanging Judge Was Drunk

Two judges in Pennsylvania are preparing to enter guilty pleas for their roles in a kickback scheme.

The scheme? The judge's sat on the juvenile court bench. They got millions from the owners of two private companies that operated the juvenile detention facilities in Luzerne County. All the judge's had to do was "send them some business." So, the judges would sentence every kid who came before them to months of detention.

It's an unbelievable story. Hearings would last for a minute or two. The judges would hand down these prison sentences over the objections of probation officers. Kids would be sentenced for stupid stuff: stealing loose change, writing prank notes. There's the inevitable "thousands of records may need to be expunged" from the authorities, but that would never make up for what has happened.

These were just a couple obscure state court judges and a little-known government contractor. And yet millions of dollars were at stake and a callous disregard for the lives of teenagers was allowed to prevail among those who would consider themselves part of the "elite."It's a stunning example of how the combination of money and government power can quckly become oppressive, even in America.

UPDATE: The NY Times has now published a front page story about this disgrace. There's some more info; one of the judge's acted as the go-between while the other did the actual sentencing. There's also the unnecessary info that Luzerne County is coal country that has been "hit hard" by the economic slump.

I should also add that the sort of public-interest law groups that I normally make fun of were instrumental in bringing this to light. Good for them.

One piece of easily obtained info that is missing from all of these stories: how did these guys end up on the bench? I will make a bold prediction and say they were appointed by Democrats. Developing, as they say...

UPDATE 2: I just noticed that the judges began their plot by ordering that Luzerne County's public detention facility be closed for being poorly run and inadequate as a prison. This allowed them to switch to the private facility. Sounds a lot like California's own judges who want to reform what they call "unconstitutional" conditions.

UPDATE 3: Here's a link to a local article about the "long history of controversies."of these two. 

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