WASHINGTON — The U.S. Solicitor General’s Office has filed a brief opposing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by disgraced former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.
The contents of the brief were not available on Monday afternoon. A Supreme Court spokeswoman said such documents can be obtained only in person from the court unless and until the panel actually agrees to hear a case.
Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury on 12 counts and sentenced to 28 years in what has widely been called the “Kids for Cash” scandal, a label he has repeatedly and vehemently rejected, insisting he never incarcerated children in exchange for money.
In 2009, federal prosecutors charged Ciavarella and former county Judge Michael Conahan with participating in a $2.8 million kickback scheme related to the construction of the PA Child Care facility in Pittston Township and the Western PA Child Care Center in Butler County and the placement of youths in the facilities.
Conahan ultimately pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison.
Ciavarella’s defense team unsuccessfully appealed his case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia. That panel upheld all but one of 12 convictions received by a jury after a trial before U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik in February 2011.
Defense attorneys William Ruzzo and Al Flora Jr. argued Kosik should have recused himself after several testy exchanges that Flora contended showed a bias, as well as comments Kosik made in personal responses to letters from citizens.
The appeals court conceded Kosik shouldn’t have made the comments he did in the letters, but said that did not rise to the level set by the U.S. Supreme Court requiring recusal.
In previous briefs, Ruzzo and Flora argued the appeals court cited the wrong cases in making that determination, and rulings in other cases — which dealt directly with comments made outside the court proceedings — should be used in determining whether recusal was required.
In October, Ciavarella’s attorneys filed a petition for a “writ of certiorari” with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to review the lower courts’ rulings. They also filed for leave to proceed “in forma pauperis,” signifying that Ciavarella cannot afford the court’s filing fee.
Following extensions, the Solicitor General’s Office had until Monday to file its response.
Now it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will hear the case. Only 1 percent of all petitions typically are heard by the court.