$4.75M Kids for Cash Settlement Approved

     (CN) – A Pennsylvania federal judge approved a $4.75 million settlement for at least 2,400 juveniles wrongly convicted and sent to detention centers in the so-called Kids for Cash scandal.
     U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo approved the settlement agreement in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Monday. It covers juveniles who appeared before then-Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. between January 2003 and May 2008.
     Judges Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty in February 2009, to taking $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending juveniles to profit-making detention centers during those years.
     Hundreds of children and parents who say they were victimized by the corruption soon filed two federal RICO class actions against the judges.
     The next month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated all juvenile adjudications entered by Ciavarella between Jan. 1, 2003 and May 31, 2008.
     Robert Powell, a former co-owner of the detention centers PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, testified he was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ciavarella and Conahan in return for their support of his facilities.
     In November 2011, U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik sentenced Powell to 18 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $60,200 in fines.
     That year, Robert Mericle, who owns a major construction firm that built the prisons and paid the judges more than $2 million, agreed to pay more than $17 million to the families.
     The next year, Caputo upheld certain claims filed against Ciavarella and Western PA.
     Meanwhile, former a state judge, Ann, Lokuta sued Ciavarella, Conahan, and five others in federal court in February 2013, claiming that they defamed and fired her because she was an FBI informant in the “Kids for Cash” scandal.
     Months later, Caputo certified classes of thousands of affected parents and children.
     That October, Caputo approved a $2.5 million settlement between the victims and PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care and Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp.
     But Caputo refused that month to let Lokuto sue a court administrator, chief court reporter, prothonotary, and the Judicial Conduct Board for allegedly conspiring against her.
     On Monday, Caputo preliminarily approved a $4.75 million settlement between the juveniles and their families and the Powell defendants.
     One approved settlement class includes all juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella between Jan. 1, 2003 and May 28, 2008 and were adjudicated delinquent or placed by the judge.
     The other class includes all those juveniles’ parents and/or guardians who made payments or had wages, social security or other entitlements garnished in connection with their children’s appearance: (i); had costs, fees, interest and/or penalties assessed against them or their juvenile; or suffered any loss of companionship and/or family integrity.
     Caputo held that the classes meet all numerosity, commonality, typicality requirements.
     “A class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy, considering (i) the interests of the members of the settlement classes in individually controlling the prosecution of the separate actions; (ii) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by members of the settlement classes, (iii) the desirability or undesirability of continuing the litigation of these claims in this particular forum, and (iv) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of the class action,” Caputo wrote.
     The judge also approved the notice forms, which the claims committee must mail out no later than Aug. 24, and held that class members have until Oct. 5 to submit a claim.
     The final approval hearing is slated for Dec. 16.
     Steve Stallings, representing Powell and his law firm, said they had no comment.
     Courthouse News is awaiting comment from the other parties.

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