SCRANTON – U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo on Friday gave final approval to the $17.75 million settlement in the kids for cash cases reached with real estate developer Robert Mericle.
The settlement calls for a basic benefit ranging from $500 to $5,000, dependent upon where and how long a juvenile was incarcerated. It also provides for additional enhanced benefits for juveniles who suffered more harm than others.
The approval clears the way for attorneys to begin the process to begin distributing the money to roughly 1,600 juveniles who made claims.
The class-action lawsuit was filed by juveniles who allege they were wrongly incarcerated as part of a scheme by former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella to enrich himself and others, including attorney Robert Powell, former co-owner of two juvenile detention centers at which many of the juveniles were incarcerated.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Ciavarella was paid kickbacks to encourage him to detain more juveniles at the centers, thus increasing their profits. Mericle, who built two of the centers the county utilized, was among numerous defendants in the lawsuit.
Basic settlement payments to juveniles will be provided as follows:
• Each juvenile who was adjudicated by Ciavarella but who never spent time in any juvenile detention facility shall receive a payment of $500.
• Each juvenile who Ciavarella placed in a juvenile detention facility other than the two built by Mericle – PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care – shall receive $1,000.
• Each juvenile who Ciavarella placed in PACC or WPACC shall receive $5,000.
A roughly $8 million Enhanced Benefits Fund will be distributed based on a system awarding points to juveniles who can provide documentation or other proof they were harmed more severely – emotionally or psychologically, for example. The point system is designed to make the decision as objective as possible, and the appeals process simpler.
For example, any juvenile who was 13 or younger during his adjudication or placement by Ciavarella will receive 20 EBF points. Any juvenile who suffered psychological or emotional harm for which he or she received documented treatment will receive either three or 10 EBF points, depending on the severity of the harm. The estate of any juvenile who committed suicide as a result of having been detained at PACC or WPACC will receive 100 EBF points.
A dollar value per point has not yet been determined because EBF points are still being calculated. The allocation plan provides that the EBF will be distributed according to a point plan with the exception of a $4,000 flat benefit enhancement to juveniles who were placed in a non-PACC/WPACC facility for more than 90 days.
After the total of the $4,000 flat benefit payments is subtracted from the $8 million fund total, the grand total of all EBF points for all juveniles will be divided into the to total value of the remainder of the money in the fund to determine the dollar value of each EBF point.
Caputo determined the settlement was fair based on nine guidelines required by law.
He also determined that the fees and costs requested by the plaintiffs' attorneys were reasonable, given the complexity of the case and size of the award. The request was for about $3.6 million in attorney fees and another $707,920 in costs.
Times Leader staff writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker contributed to this report.