Pa. Supreme Court Throws Out Thousands of Juvenile Delinquency Cases

"I was 12 years old. I didn't know too much about the court system."

His offense? He went joyriding with his mom's car and ran over a barrier, smashing the undercarriage. No one was hurt, not even Stefanski, but in order to get her insurance to pay for the damage, his mom, Linda Donovan, had to file a police report. Donovan even thought an appearance before a judge would be good for her son and give him a little scare. She wasn't prepared for what happened when Eric came before Ciavarella.

"He read me my charges and said, 'How do you plead?' And I didn't know what to say, so I looked at my mom, and I guess she didn't know I was looking, and I said, 'Guilty,'" Stefanski said.

"That's when I turned around, I looked at my mom and she started crying."

'The Most Egregious Abuse of Power'

Stefanski was locked up for two years. He was not represented by an attorney, his mom said, because she didn't think he needed one.

"His first offense, he's so young, I just didn't think that it was necessary," Donovan said.

It's not supposed to be like this in juvenile court, where incarceration is considered the last resort, legal experts said. But Levick told ABC News she saw a disturbing trend inside Ciaravella's courtroom. ,

And she had the evidence to back it up, she claimed.

"The numbers of children going into placement in Luzerne County tended to be two to three times higher than in other counties," she said.

Levick said kids were being locked up for minor infractions. "A child who shoplifted a $4 bottle of nutmeg," she said. "A child who was charged with conspiracy to shoplift because he was present when his friend was shoplifting. A child who put up a MySpace page, taunting her school administrator.

"I think what we have here in Luzerne County is probably the most egregious abuse of power in the history of the American legal system," Levick said.

Levick turned her findings over to the FBI, and the outcome rocked the Pennsylvania justice system.

Ciavarella and Conahan had allegedly devised a plot to use their positions as judges to pad their pockets. They shut down the old county-run juvenile detention center by first refusing to send kids there and, then, by cutting off funds, choking it out of existence.

They then replaced the facility with a cash cow -- a privately owned lockup built by the judges' cronies -- and forged a deal for the county to pay $58 million for a 10-year period for its use. At the time, Conahan was serving as president judge of the Luzerne County Common Pleas Court, a position that allowed him to control the county-court budget. Ciavarella was the Luzerne County juvenile court judge.

In the judges' original plea deal, they admitted that they took more than $2.6 million in payoffs from the private youth detention center between 2003 and 2006.

Prosecutors said the judges attempted to hide their income from the scheme by creating false records and routing payments through intermediaries. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed them from their duties after federal prosecutors filed charges Jan. 26. The investigation is ongoing.

"The defendants engaged in fraud by taking millions of dollars in connection with the construction, operation and expansion of juvenile detention facilities here in Luzerne County," U.S. Attorney Martin Carlson said.

And, according to state statistics, Ciavarella's incarceration rates of juveniles jumped after the privately owned juvenile detention center opened.

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