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Thursday, May 1, 2008

President Judge Mark Ciavarella doesn’t believe he is legally required to comply with the county’s policy.

So what else is new in Luzerne County? The legal system does not seem to think that the law applies to them when it comes to a court of law. They appear to make their own rules. I guess thats the reason no one wants to go visit that hell hole. I for one am not going to go there for Joe and Harlow's trial. All they would need is some lame excuse to throw you in jail. I'd rather go to a Turkish prison than go to Luzerne County.

Vita bill totals $1.1 million
County psychologist made “twice as much as what he’d make in private practice,” another local practitioner says.
By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.comLuzerne County Reporter
Frank Vita was paid $233,005 to provide juvenile psychological evaluations for Luzerne County’s court system from July 2001 through 2003, bringing his total receipts to more than $1.1 million, county records show.
Vita, the brother-in-law of Court of Common Pleas senior Judge Mike Conahan, charges the county $90 per hour, his invoices show.
The hourly pay is reasonable, but his annual earnings from the county are not typical, said Forty Fort psychologist Robert E. Griffin.
Griffin reviewed salary reports and estimates area psychologists earn $70,000 to $100,000 per year. The annual amounts the county paid to Vita are “twice as much as what he’d make in private practice,” said Griffin.
Vita, of Mountain Top, was paid yearly amounts ranging from $180,360 to $233,705 from 2004 through 2007. In 2004, his highest-paid year, calculations show Vita would have had to work 49.9 billable hours a week all 52 weeks of the year.
County Human Services Director Joe DeVizia said the spending on psychological services is “high for our system.”
“But it is a specialty service, and it has to be looked at as a specialty,” DeVizia said.
In comparison, psychologist Leonora Herrmann-Finn is paid $65 an hour, capped at $80,000 for the year, to provide psychological evaluations in the county’s Children and Youth division, according to the July 2007 commissioner meeting agenda. She was chosen through a public advertising process, said county Chief Clerk/Manager Doug Pape.
DeVizia said “good, Ph.D. licensed psychologists” like Vita are becoming as in-demand as psychiatrists and can earn $125,000 or more per year. He said there are “many good psychologists” in the region, but some don’t have experience in the justice system.
However, officials will have to decide if the county can continue to afford to pay so much for juvenile evaluations, DeVizia said.
“The challenge will be getting someone acceptable to the judge at a cost the county can afford,” DeVizia said.
County officials plan to issue a public request for proposals before July 1 to obtain price quotes and qualifications of all psychologists who are interested in the work now handled by Vita, DeVizia said.
The county’s 2004 purchasing policy requires public searches, but the court has not been in compliance.
County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Mark Ciavarella agreed to the public advertising but said he doesn’t believe he is legally required to comply with the county’s policy. Several county officials disagree with his interpretation.
The courts should have embraced a public advertising process, particularly when Conahan served as president judge from 2002 through 2006, said county minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban. The president judge oversees probation and other court branches.
“The fact that Mr. Vita is Judge Conahan’s brother-in-law raises a big red flag,” Urban said Wednesday.
Conahan and Vita have not responded to requests for comment. Ciavarella has said he supports Vita’s work because he does thorough, quality reports.
Urban said he learned Wednesday that commissioners were never asked to approve a contract for Vita to work for probation, even though other probation contracts routinely come before commissioners.
“Why was this contract handled differently?” Urban asked.
According to Vita’s invoices, he usually bills between 14 and 19 hours for work associated with each juvenile. For example, his $14,805 payment on April 2 covered assessments for 10 juveniles.
His referrals come from the county’s Juvenile Probation Department, according to county Probation Director Larry Saba.
The probation “forensic department” run by Sandy Brullo determines which juvenile offenders receive psychological evaluations, Saba said.
Those evaluations usually involve several tests, according to Vita’s bills. For most clients, he indicates that he performed the following tests: Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, Bender Gestalt Visual Motor Test, Rorschach Scoring and Interpretation and the Million Adolescent Clinical Inventory Scoring and Interpretation.
“…(I)t is a specialty service, and it has to be looked at as a specialty.”Joe DeVizia
Luzerne County Human Services Director

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