With his hands stuffed in his pockets, Mark Ciavarella stood in a federal courtroom yesterday looking like a lost little boy searching for the right spot to stand in the schoolyard of a brand new school.
Today he’ll be looking for a new place to stand, a safe spot in a federal prison yard as he begins the first full day of a 28-year sentence for political corruption.
So long sucker.
You thought you were playing us but we were playing you.
The system won this time.
This former Luzerne Country president judge and golden good old boy known to his friends as “Scooch” is gone. Justice was a long time coming, but when the day finally arrived, even some of his victims in the “Kids for Cash’ scandal found the strength to applaud in court.
The gangster judge’s wife protested.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” she said in the tone of a high school homecoming queen who didn’t like the color of her corsage when she opened the box.
But nobody listened.
And homecoming will take a while.
Twenty-eight years behind bars is likely a life sentence for her bad boy husband who turned his judicial duties into an organized criminal enterprise and sold kids for cash. Ciavarella, despite his protests otherwise, turned into a slave master, incarcerating thousands of children in exchange for cash he received for filling bunks in the juvenile lock-up.
Selling children doesn’t go over too well in prison. Convicts need somebody to look down on, too.
And living out his golden years will be a lot more difficult that the golf trips and happy sojourns to the lush condo he bought to live the high life and launder his blood money in Florida.
No, life won’t be easy for Scooch.
Each day in jail will get harder. His teeth will hurt, his joints will ache and his stomach will likely eject prison food after a lifetime of privilege and power. Control will no longer be his to wield like a whip in a Confederate cotton field.
Ciavarella could easily die before his time is up. If so, federal officials will cart his corpse back to whoever claims him. And no matter what they carve on his tombstone, his epitaph will forever read, “Kids for Cash.”
The gangster judge protested that label yesterday as he read a brash statement that proclaimed his innocence. He said he never sold children in the marketplace of justice and never once violated a child’s rights as he dispensed abuse from the juvenile bench.
In the back row, some of those children murmured their protestation. Some of the parents murmured as well. They all knew better because they saw and felt deep, sometimes fatal, bite of the Ciavarella lash.
The justices of the state Supreme Court also knew better when they vacated thousands of Ciavarella decisions, forced to expunge his rulings because he did, indeed, violate the civil, human and constitutional rights of the army of kids he sold on the auction block of injustice.
But that didn’t stop Ciavarella from his tirade, attacking the press, the prosecutor, the state Supreme Court and the state-wide commission that took testimony and detailed his torture chambers.
I wrote “he sounds nuts” in my notebook” as I realized that this sick, pathetic man was in the midst of a last act of dangerous desperation, a zany last attempt to control and manipulate anyone foolish enough to fall for his deception.
When he finished, prosecutor Gordon Zubrod rose to ask the judge in a voice fit for a firing squad command to imprison Ciavarella for the “rest of his natural life.”
The sentencing judge pretty much complied.
As he spoke, I hastily calculated what 336 months meant in years.
But Ciavarella didn’t flinch.
And then it was over.
Victims clapped, the prom queen whined and court officials cleared the courtroom.
On my way out the door, I realized that I would never see Ciavarella again.
So I turned for one last look.
Small in stature that he is and surrounded by family, I couldn’t see his face.
Good, I thought as I turned my back and headed toward a new day and the sense of freedom that always accompanies truth.