On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered two former judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, to pay more than $200 million in damages to hundreds who fell victim to their crimes.

In late 1999, Ciavarella approached Conahan and suggested that they bring together a team that had the financial ability to build a new juvenile detention facility, including codefendants Robert Powell and Robert Mericle who formed PA Child Care (PACC) to construct such a facility.

In 2002, during his term as president judge, Conahan orchestrated a “placement guarantee agreement” whereby the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas would be required to pay rent to PACC. PACC reportedly accepted $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of two for-profit lockups. Ciavarella pushed a zero-tolerance policy that guaranteed large numbers of kids would be sent to PACC and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

At trial, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania heard from 282 plaintiffs and 32 parents. The court finds the victims’ testimonies to be completely credible and credits their remembrances of specific events as well as their candid inability to remember others. Although their adjudications occurred well over a decade ago, many plaintiffs retained a vivid recollection of their various appearances before Ciavarella. They recounted his harsh and arbitrary nature, his disdain for due process, his extraordinary abruptness, and his cavalier and boorish behavior in the courtroom.

The ruling states:

“The court heard numerous accounts of senseless detentions. Of the 282 former juveniles who testified, 79 were under the age of thirteen. One individual testified that he was only eight years old when he was first adjudicated by Ciavarella. After his initial appearance, this child was shipped to a slate of juvenile detention facilities for months at a time, including PACC, WPACC, Camp Adams Youth Camp, the Glen Mills School, and the George Junior Republic. He estimated he spent around a decade in detention “bouncing from placement to placement.” Like him, many youths were detained, adjudicated, and thereafter endured lengthy placements for minor infractions.”

The ruling continues:

“Many of the defendants’ victims have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety; many also suffer from recurrent thoughts of suicide. One plaintiff stated “Even just coming here today, when I heard this case was reopening, I had nightmares about it almost twice a week . . . I never tell anybody about this period of my lifetime.” Another testified via video that she chose to appear virtually because “I am terrified of the justice system . . . I’m doing the video [testimony] because I am terrified of the courtroom, and even this is making me nervous.”

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to plaintiffs who chose to participate in the process. The judge determined that each plaintiff was entitled to a base rate of $1,000 for each day of wrongful imprisonment, and then increased that amount based on the specifics of each case to determine compensatory damages. Conner stated that the disgraced judges caused “unspeakable physical and emotional trauma” to kids and teenagers, making significant punitive penalties necessary.

The ruling concluded that:

“Based on the court’s individualized review of the record evidence, we will award plaintiffs compensatory damages as set forth in the Damages Appendix. We further award $100,000,000.00 in punitive damages against defendants Ciavarella and Conahan. An appropriate order shall issue.”

A copy of the original filing can be found here.