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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/27/09

More Lessons From Luzerne County

By Mumia Abu-Jamal  Posted by Hans Bennett (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
Message Hans Bennett

Listen to the radio-essay here.

[col. writ. 3/2/09] (c) '09 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Recently, a piece was produced on the scandal in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County, where 2 judges pleaded guilty for playing their parts in a kickback scheme that netted them over 2 and 1/2 million bucks.

The beneficiaries of their hustle were private juvenile prison builders, owners and investors (oh -- and themselves, of course).

The losers were hundreds of Luzerne County's children, kids who were treated like cattle, as they were shuffled through so-called 'courts' -- without counsel --, where so-called 'judges' sent them away from their parents, their siblings, and their fellow students, for acts as benign as passing notes, or sending fresh emails -- to private prisons for profit!

While the judges pleaded guilty to relatively minor charges, some other officials at the court, from county clerk to deputy court administrator have followed the judges in plea agreements.

What is utterly remarkable is how easily and effortlessly these judges did their thing, in stark violation of the state's Juvenile Act, * with virtual impunity, for almost a decade!

One must wonder, where were the lawyers looking out for the interests of these kids? Or were they so cowed, so shocked, so shaken by a 'long train of abuses' that they were silenced by the ugliness of corruption, and the aura of fear?

Pennsylvania law allegedly provides protections for children, including the right to counsel (even if they couldn't afford it), and a legal presumption that all kids should remain with their families. As a general rule, a child shouldn't have been detained unless she posed a danger to others, their property, or herself. There are exceptions to this rule, and they were whether the child was charged with committing major felonies, like robbery, rape or murder.

There was apparently another exception -- whether or not President Judge Mark Ciavarella or Senior Judge Michael Conahan wanted to make some quick bucks.

They were subject to a higher law -- get money!

What the Luzerne County scandal has shown us is that what happens in many courts is both a business and a mystery. For millions of Americans, the law is a puzzle written in Latin, one unable to decode.

It also shows us that sometimes the criminal is sitting on the bench, wearing a black robe.

--(c) '09 maj

[* See various PA statutes, like Tit. 42 Pa. C. S. 6301 et seq. (Re: Purposes of "Juvenile Act": To preserve the unity of the family whenever possible or to provide another alternative permanent family when the unity of the family cannot be maintained.) ; Tit. 42 Pa. C. S 6337: (Re: 'Right to Counsel': (....{A} party is entitled to representation by legal counsel at all stages of any proceedings under this chapter and if he is without financial resources or otherwise unable to employ counsel, to have the court provide counsel for him. If a party appears without counsel the court shall ascertain whether he knows of his right thereto and be provided with counsel by the court if applicable. Counsel must be provided for a child unless his parent, guardian, or custodian is present in court and affirmatively waive it....)]

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Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," (more...)
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