Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:00PM - 1228 Views

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An attorney representing the juvenile detention centers named in the kids for cash lawsuits has filed court papers that again challenge a $17.75 million settlement reached with real estate developer Robert Mericle.

Attorney Bernard Schneider, attorney for PA Child Care and its related entities, argues U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo should reject the proposed settlement for numerous reasons, including claims that it does not fairly represent all plaintiffs in the action.

The legal brief, filed Friday, comes about one week before Caputo is scheduled to hold a hearing that will help him determine whether to give final approval to the settlement.

Mericle was among numerous defendants in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of juveniles who allege they were wrongly incarcerated at PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, which were built by Mericle, as part of a scheme to enrich Mericle, former judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, and others.

The settlement would end the case for Mericle, but the suit continues against several other defendants, including the ex-judges, PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care and Mid Atlantic Youth Services, which operated the two juvenile centers.

The settlement, reached in December 2011, calls for juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella between Jan. 1, 2003 and May 28, 2009 to each receive $500 to $5,000, depending upon individual circumstances of their cases. Some juveniles also are entitled to additional payments from an enhanced benefit fund that's based on the degree of psychological or physical harm they suffered.

Schneider cites the differing payments in support of his argument that the settlement is not fair to all plaintiffs.

The court should give particular attention to a proposed settlement that offers considerably more value to one class of plaintiffs than to another because it may be trading the latter group's claims to enrich the former group, Schneider says.

For instance, Schneider points out the largest base award of $5,000 will be paid to juveniles who were incarcerated at PA or Western PA Child Care centers at some point during their detention. That's to the detriment of others who were incarcerated at other centers, even if they were detained longer and suffered more harm than those detained at PA or Western PA Child Care.

Plaintiffs offer neither facts nor argument to support the proposition that residing in PACC or WPACC was somehow worse than being placed in other facilities and thereby justify relief that other placements do not, Schneider says.

Schneider had raised similar issues in a previous legal brief he filed that opposed the plaintiffs' request to give preliminary approval to the settlement.

Caputo granted that approval in February, which permitted attorneys to take necessary steps to identify and notify claimants. Approximately 1,000 juveniles have filed claims.

The next hearing, set for Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. in federal court in Wilkes-Barre, will determine if the settlement gets final approval, which would set the stage for the distribution of the money.

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