A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] on Friday approved a settlement of almost $18 million in a lawsuit brought by juveniles who were allegedly wrongfully incarcerated by two judges. The county judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were accused of taking bribes from Robert Mericle, a real estate developer who built youth detention centers, in exchange for wrongfully incarcerating the juveniles. The settlement Friday was only with Mericle, but both judges are named as defendants in the civil case as well. Most of the 1,600 minors and parents involved will receive from the settlement between $500 and $5,000 dollars each. Ciavarella and Conahan were both convicted of multiple counts including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy following separate criminal trials last year. Ciavaralla was sentenced to 28 years and Conahan was sentenced to 17 1/2 years [JURIST reports] for their involvement in the scandal. Mericle is currently awaiting a criminal trial [case profile] for charges of concealing and failing to report a felony and conspiracy to defraud the US of income taxes.
In 2010, federal prosecutors announced [JURIST report] that they would not retry juveniles after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2009 reversed [opinion, JURIST report] more than 6,000 juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. The ruling came weeks after Ciavarella and Conahan were indicted [JURIST report] by a federal grand jury. Both judges withdrew guilty pleas months earlier after a federal judge rejected their plea agreement [NYTimes report, JURIST op-ed], stating that the prison sentences would be too lenient.