Three years after filing suit, more than 1,600 juveniles and their parents who alleged the youths were wrongly incarcerated by former judge Mark Ciavarella have received their portion of a $17.75 million settlement reached with one of the defendants in the kids for cash lawsuits.
Attorney David Senoff, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said checks totaling $11.6 million were mailed Monday to 1,067 juveniles eligible under an agreement reached in December 2011 with real estate developer Robert Mericle, the builder of PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centers that were used by the county.
Checks totaling $606,925 also were mailed to parents of juveniles to reimburse them for costs they incurred for the incarceration of their children, Senoff said.
Payments to individual juvenile plaintiffs ranged from $500 to roughly $30,000, he said.
The payments come 23 months after Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts related to his acceptance of $1 million from Mericle – a payment attorneys for the juveniles say was a reward for utilizing his power as judge to incarcerate youths, ensuring the centers were profitable.
We put a lot of work into this, and I'm very happy with the result, said Senoff, who was among dozens of attorneys who have worked on the case. With this partial settlement, these kids did receive some justice. We cannot turn back the hands of time and give them back what they lost as a result of Ciavarella's actions. At least the law allowed us to compensate them with money.
The settlement resolves all claims against Mericle, but the case is not over – as attorneys are continuing to pursue claims against remaining defendants, including Ciavarella, former county judge Michael Conahan and Robert Powell, former co-owner of the detention centers.
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo approved the settlement in December 2012. The agreement calls for juveniles to receive $500 to $5,000, dependent upon where and how long they were incarcerated. Some juveniles who suffered more harm than others also will be entitled to money from an enhanced benefit fund.
Caputo also approved payment of $4,335,000 for attorney's fees and costs.
The amount paid to each juvenile and parent was determined by a claims committee that evaluated the circumstances of each case:
• Any juvenile who appeared before Ciavarella but never spent any time in a facility received $500.
• A juvenile who was placed in a facility other than PA Child Care or Western PA Child Care received $1,000.
• Those incarcerated at PA Child Care or Western PA Child Care received $5,000.
The enhanced benefit fund paid additional money to juveniles who had special circumstances, such as those who were under age 13 when they were incarcerated, and those who suffered psychological or physical harm due to their incarceration.
Those juveniles were assigned points, which were worth $1,074 each.
A juvenile who was under age 13 when incarcerated received 20 points, or an additional $21,480; those who suffered emotional harm received 10 points, or $10,740.
A claims committee evaluated each juvenile's claims to determine how much they were owed. A letter describing how the payment was decided was included with the checks, Senoff said.
Any plaintiff who believes his or her payment was not properly calculated has 30 days from the date of their letter to appeal the decision to the claims committee. A specially appointed judge will review all disputes and issue a ruling, Senoff said.
The checks mark the first disbursement from the fund, said Senoff, but additional payments are expected to be made to the plaintiffs once appeals are resolved.