The Happy Racketeer

The trial is over for kids-for-cash judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., the former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Juvenile Court judge who single-handedly harmed more children than any child molester ever could.  And Ciavarella was  just thrilled about the outcome as he walked out of court.



Ciavarella was allowed to remain free pending sentencing after the conviction Friday. And after the verdict, he made rather strident statements to the media outside the courthouse.


“Never took a dime to send a kid anywhere. … Never happened. Never, ever happened. This case was about extortions and kickbacks, not about ‘kids for cash,’” said Ciavarella, who plans to appeal.

His lawyer, Al Flora, did the percentage thing:

The defense declared victory. “We’re amazed. The jury rejected 95 percent of the government’s case.”

The prosecutor felt differently.
“I find it interesting,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said in response, “that a man just convicted of racketeering is claiming any sort of a victory out there today. I wonder what he would consider a defeat.”

The actual details are that Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, ranging from money laundering to racketeering.  But he was acquitted of 27 other counts.  Missing from all of this are any charges that Ciavarella sent kids to jail who should never have been sent to jail in order to populate his pal’s private juvenile prison.  That exercise of judicial discretion wasn’t on the table, though it resulted in the  reversal of about 6500 convictions by Ciavarella.

Despite the apparent glee of Ciavarella at being able to both walk out of court and proclaim his own brand of victory. it was momentarily dampened by the sound of Sandy Fonzo.



In response to the judge’s being able to walk pending sentencing, Sandy Fonzo, whose son was jailed by Ciavarella — and committed suicide last year at age 23 — screamed obscenities at the judge and even poked him as he and his attorneys held a news conference on the courthouse steps.

“My kid’s not here anymore!” yelled Fonzo. “He’s dead! Because of him! He ruined my f——- life! I’d like him to go to hell and rot there forever!”


Ciavarella glanced at Fonzo, then turned his back.


How dare this shrew ruin his moment in the media sun with her curses.  And what did Ciavarella do to her that was so horrible?



Fonzo’s son, Edward Kenzakowski, was a 17-year-old all-star wrestler with no prior record when he landed in Ciavarella’s courtroom for possession of drug paraphernalia. She said her son never recovered from the months he served at the detention centers and a wilderness camp.


Tears streaming down her face, Fonzo said she couldn’t believe Ciavarella was allowed to walk out of the courthouse.


“There’s no justice, there’s not. He’s never going to get what he deserves,” she said. “I just wanted to see him handcuffed and taken out. But when I saw him just being released with that stupid smirk on his face …”


If ever there was a smirk I would like to wipe off a defendant’s face, this was it.

Having turned down a deal that would have netted him about 10 years, Ciavarella now realistically faces about 13 years, ironically the length of time he sat on a bench and sent children away.  Go figure.  But given that he was allowed to walk out of the courthouse and breath the free air he denied 6500 children, it doesn’t strike me as particularly certain that a downward departure can’t be found somewhere.

While these digital pages are replete with instances of judges who failed to perform well, even adequately, there are no judges who are lower, and worse, and more despicable, that Ciavarella and his co-defendant, Michael T. Conahan.  It’s not enough that they sold their robes, but that they sold children.

There is nothing that I would hope to see happen more than Senior U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik wipe that smirk off Ciavarella’s face, but his allowing him to remain  free on bond pending sentencing is troubling.



Prosecutors asked Senior U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to immediately place Mr. Ciavarella, who has been free on $1 million unsecured bail for nearly 25 months, in federal custody.



“He’s at risk for flight,” Mr. Houser told the judge. “He faces up to 157 years in prison at this point.”


Defense attorney William Ruzzo argued that Mr. Ciavarella’s strong family ties would ensure that he would not flee and noted that Mr. Ciavarella had obeyed all of the court’s instructions since his arrest.


“This man would rather go on a gurney and be injected rather than leave his family,” Mr. Ruzzo said.


Judge Kosik agreed with the defense.  Perhaps he understood Ruzzo’s argument as a deal in the offing, and took him up on it.

6 comments on “The Happy Racketeer

  1. Dan

    We can only hope that the judge is received in prison like any other inmate whose crimes involve harming children.

  2. Brian Gurwitz

    “We’re amazed . . . .”

    Perhaps the two worst words a defense attorney can use to describe his reaction to a jury’s acquittal, partial or otherwise.

    Maybe the judge will start out his sentencing spiel by thanking defense counsel for his candid assessment to the media that the government had overwhelming proof and that the jury’s acquittal was a fluke.

  3. SHG

    While I’m vehemently against the concept of sentencing based on acquitted conduct, I would be unlikely to shed any tears for the former judge should it happen here.

  4. Jeff Gamso

    The pleasure of never having represented Ciavarella is that I am allowed to say that he deserves far worse punishment than the court can possibly mete out.

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