Our Opinion: Juvenile Law Center continues, after ‘kids for cash’ scandal, to reshape legal system



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    Marsha Levick had another big January.

    On Monday, the Philadelphia-area lawyer learned the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case in which she served as co-counsel; the ruling went her way. As a result, inmates who had been sentenced as juveniles to life in our nation’s prisons without the possibility of parole suddenly became eligible to receive leniency. Nearly 500 Pennsylvania juvie “lifers” will have hope, where once there was none, of eventual release.

    Levick’s name should ring a bell with area residents.

    Seven years ago this week, she and staffers with the organization she co-founded, the Juvenile Law Center, received good news of another sort: Their work on behalf of youths in Northeastern Pennsylvania helped to expose judicial wrongdoing and resulted in federal charges against two Luzerne County judges. The legal landmark soon became known as the “kids for cash” scandal.

    Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. received lengthy prison sentences for their respective roles in the affair. The state’s top court subsequently vacated the convictions of more than 6,000 youths who had appeared, often without legal counsel, before Ciavarella. Pennsylvania lawmakers also approved statewide reforms of the juvenile justice system.

    As far back as January 2004, Levick had appeared in the Times Leader’s news accounts, railing against schools’ zero-tolerance policies toward misbehaving youths.

    “The problem (with zero tolerance) is that people are not drawing sensible lines,” she told us then.

    This week, Levick’s career-long advocacy became the focus of a Philadelphia Inquirer article. It credited Levick, 64, for “a decade-long campaign in the courts to roll back the harshest punishments for children and bring the law in line with science that has proven kids are different than adults.”

    She told the Inquirer, “The world for kids in the justice system has changed at a phenomenal speed.”

    Those changes, it should be noted, wouldn’t occur without people like Levick, whose persistence and passion for justice have toppled tyrants and brought light to dark places.

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