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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Luzerne county up to it's little secret tricks again

The Times Leader is a interesting read, they will tell all of the dirty little secrets of Luzerne County. I wonder if Judge Conahan got a kickback from his brother-in-law for all of the county work he got him?

Judge’s brother-in-law paid $877K
Psych services to court not bid out
By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.comLuzerne County Reporter
A Luzerne County judge’s brother-in-law has been paid $877,880 to provide psychological services to the court system since 2004, raising questions about why that work isn’t publicly advertised.

The psychologist, Frank Vita, is married to the sister of Mike Conahan, who is now a senior judge in the county Court of Common Pleas.
Psychology is considered a professional service by county officials.

The county’s 2004 purchasing policy requires public requests for proposals or qualifications for professional services over $7,500. The mandate is meant to give everyone a shot at the work and to gather cost comparisons, though there’s no requirement that the work will go to the individual or business that submits the lowest price.

Common Pleas President Judge Mark Ciavarella said he wasn’t aware of the county purchasing policy and has been abiding by the state County Code, which does not require public advertising for professional services.

Requests-for-proposals will be sought for the psychology service in the future, said county Chief Clerk/Manager Doug Pape.
Ciavarella said he has no problem advertising the psychology work, but he stressed that he does not believe the court is required to abide by the county’s purchasing policy.

“The court is a separate branch of government. They (commissioners) can’t dictate how I manage the court system, as long as I am in compliance with the state law,” Ciavarella said.
But Commissioners Stephen A. Urban and Maryanne Petrilla believe the courts must follow the county policy.

Urban said $877,880 is a lot of money to pay someone without shopping around for the prices and qualifications of other providers.
Petrilla said she knows of no county document or state law that exempts the courts from following county purchasing policies.

“Since the county is the funding source for the courts, and their budget is approved by the commissioners, I see no reason why they don’t follow all county policies,” Petrilla said.
Vita and Conahan could not be reached for comment.
Ciavarella said Vita “does an outstanding job.” Vita assesses juvenile offenders and recommends appropriate treatment to the judge. Ciavarella has been handling juvenile court cases in the county for years.

“When I first got on the bench, I received psychological reports that were not worth the paper they were printed on. His reports are 10 and 20 pages long and very extensive,” Ciavarella said.
Vita typically spends 10 to 16 hours evaluating each juvenile offender, Ciavarella said.
“In the juvenile system, it’s so important to get the child in the right program. Without that, we’re just wasting our money,” Ciavarella said.

Vita started providing psychology services to the court system when Joseph Augello was president judge, said county Probation Director Larry Saba.
Conahan then served as president judge from 2002 through 2006 until Ciavarella took over the role. The president judge decides who is hired in court branches and oversees the court’s administrative affairs.

The controller’s office did not have records on Vita’s payments before 2004.
Here’s the breakdown of what Vita was paid: $233,705 in 2004; $189,495 in 2005; $200,160 in 2006; $180,360 in 2007 and $74,160 this year to date.
Purchasing has become an issue in the county since the recent discovery that prison kitchen purchases were illegally piecemealed, or broken into smaller amounts to circumvent requirements to obtain quotes and/or bids.

County officials have started visiting each department and discovered other examples of purchases that did not comply with the county’s purchasing policy.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.

I wonder if they did the psych evaluation on Joe Kerekes as well as Bryan Kocis in his first case? It really makes you woinder what is going on in Luzerne County.

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