Testimonies in court in alphabetical order may seem a bit odd, especially if you are used to the illusion of court hearings typically shown on television. Yet if you listen to hundreds of people talk about how their lives have been drastically affected by the infamous “Kids for Cash” affair, how could you make it your priority?
Which life shattered by the greedy corruption of two Luzerne County judges gets the highest priority? What parent has the most poignant story of a family torn apart so well that well-paid public servants could almost triple their annual income? An alphabetical order in the recounting of these stories is as good as any.
Scheduled to last at least two weeks, the Litany of Altered Lives began to unfold in Wilkes-Barre Federal Court on South Main Street before U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Connor, without the presence of disgraced Judge Mark Ciavarella nor by Michael Conahan.
Both have waived their rights to participate in the civil action, making it an oddly one-sided case, especially since other plaintiffs – lawyer / developer Robert Powell, developer Robert Mericle and Mericle Construction – have already fixed the problem.
The opening comments from the Philadelphia-based attorneys representing the plaintiffs could hardly be more underestimated, as Sol Wiess promised those who provide testimony “will graphically re-read their horror stories in a poignant and meaningful way.”
To say the least.
“It took my whole childhood from me,” said Mark Aguilar, the first to testify, of Ciavarella’s conviction in juvenile court, “all of it.”
Locked up for two years, Pasquale Allabaugh said: “I learned to be a criminal.
“I should have gone to the ball. It was supposed to be the best years of my life. Instead, I was learning how to sharpen a toothbrush.
There may be an urge to dismiss this as late or rehash old news. Charges were first laid against Ciavarella and Conahan in 2009. Prolonged legal maneuvers followed. The convictions of around 6,000 minors who appeared before Ciavarella for five years have been overturned. Conahan pleaded guilty to a deal, but Ciavarella withdrew from a deal because he rejected the idea that he was sending children to a private juvenile detention center in exchange for payments from the center’s owners. He was tried and sentenced in February 2011 and has fought both conviction and sentence since.
Hearings were held, rules and laws changed, all to prevent the same fate from happening to other children, by closing the proverbial barn door too late. All of these children were still grappling with the consequences of Ciavarella’s money-tainted decisions. Some still do. So, no, this is not old news. Because the impact of the scandal reverberates over thousands of lives, it is still present.
And it’s important for all of us to remember how it happened and how preventable it was.
Nicholas Barbose testified that he was caught with a small amount of marijuana and convicted by Ciavarella after a hearing he said lasted 42 seconds. “That’s the time it took him to decide to lock me up for 10 months.”
Ciavarella may not have, in his mind, sent children for money, but in the name of “zero tolerance” he sent children to a facility he took advantage of, an indistinguishable distinction for most.
The testimony in this case is not a repeat, it is a reminder of what happened: at the best of times, good intentions have been corrupted by money. In the worst case, yes, it was just “kids for money”. Either way, these children – now adults – deserve this opportunity, and we must listen to them.
– Time manager