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Tuesday
Sep292009

390. How did they get away with it?

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the gangster judges of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (see post 389) is how long they got away with it.  It's not like they were sentencing children in secret, or even (if the stories are true) receiving famous mobsters in their chambers in a surreptitious manner.  They were doing it all right out in the open.

One clue is suggested by this self-righteously defensive editorial statement from the managing editor of the local newspaper, the Times Reader, explaining why the paper declined to publish a photograph of a sitting judge - the  court administrator, Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. - vacationing in Florida with "convicted drug dealer Ronald Belletiere alongside then president judge Michael T. Conahan."   (For an introduction to Mr. Belletiere, see post 389.)

That might sound newsworthy, mightn't it?  The managing editor explained that they didn't publish the photo, because it was something voters would consider significant:

Which brings us to the anonymous letter and snapshot. Ask yourself who would have this photograph? Who would send this letter and why?

People have an agenda when they send information to be published. Usually it is innocent. They want to mark an occasion, publicize their bake sale, or take credit for a project. Clearly the anonymous letter was an attempt to undermine Olszewski’s retention vote in the Nov. 3 election.

By publishing it, the media becomes a part of — a tool of — an anonymous attempt to scandalize Olszewski.

It wasn’t new. It wasn’t fair. We decided not to compromise The Times Leader.

By not publishing it, of course, the paper equally intervened in the campaign.  And what difference does it make if it was supplied anonymously?  It's a photograph, not some wild allegation.

But then, it's not hard to understand why it was supplied anonymously: the supplier didn't want to be squashed like a bug.  The paper apparently understood that point all too well.  The managing editor's words, I think, translate into: when in doubt, kiss the ring.  You don't want any $3.5 libel judgments handed down, now, do you?

[BTW, today it was revealed that Judge Olszewski, a former DA (and son and namesake of a prior judge Olszewski, making him another one of those coasting-on-parent's-name-ID judges), flew down to Florida on a flight arranged by "Robert J. Powell, a suspended Hazleton-area attorney who has pleaded guilty to bribing two former county judges in the kids-for-cash scandal."   The judge says he didn't know who arranged for the jet, because Conahan lied to him, which is certainly plausible.]

Whether the paper was intimidated, or angling for favors, or just too tied into the power structure to want to question it - or knew exactly who the "anonymous" supplier of the picture was, and wanted to spite him or her - I can't say.  It's possible the thought process was as the managing editor described, although his picture doesn't make him look like a drooling imbecile. 

But the picture episode suggests one reason the gangster judges got away with it as long as they did: a lapdog press.

But lapdogs come in many colors.  The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board had complaints against the judges (this one is from 2006, and we know about the one from 1991), and in 2002 the state's appellate court chastised Ciavarella for not informing juveniles of their right to counsel before locking them away for months and years.

And then there's former Judge Ann Lokuta, to whom this blog owes at least half an apology.  (See post 258.)  Lokuta claimed that Ciavarella and Conahan conspired to get her removed from the bench because she wouldn't join their reindeer games.  The Judicial Conduct Board responded with guns blazing -- against Lokuta.  Back in post 258 I remarked on the unusual emotion in the disciplinary counsel's brief.  The newest filings are, if anything, even more personal and belittling.

Hank Grezlak from The Legal Intelligencer summed up the meaning of the Lokuta case last spring.  It's not so much a case about her any more. It's about a Judicial Conduct Board that not only failed to notice the stench, but allowed itself to be used by the gangsters -- that is, assuming that a more straightforward, less psychological explanation, such as, say, one involving Big Billy, is out of the question.  Caesar's wife and all that, right?  I mean, it's absolutely impossible that the Judicial Conduct Board...?  Nah.  No way.

Reader Comments (2)

Thank god the Feds are handling the Luzerne County corruption cases.

Sadly, Pennsylvania's Judicial Conduct Board appears to have some serious conflicts of interest in the Lokuta case, which only highlight its avoidance of the earlier complaints against Judge Conahan.

One member, Mr Pat Judge, was indicted Judge Conahan's business partner.

Attorney Richard Sprague, the presiding judge who ruled against Lokuta exploring her allegations of conspiracy during her trial, represented now-disbarred attorney Robert Powell, who paid the kickbacks to Judges Conahan and Ciavarella.

Could it be that Luzerne County is not an aberration for Pennsylvania?
October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhose Hands Are Clean?
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July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLorie34Byrd

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