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Friday, May 2, 2008

Judge Ciavarella defends his stance with regards to Vita

Judge Conahan pictured here

Luzerne county is coming under fire for its judicial practices. Citizens of Luzerne county speak out on the corruption in they're judicial system. Some are asking for a investigation into the court system. Judge Conahan and Dr. Vita, his brother-in-law could not be reached for comment. I am wondering if the citizens will start to question some of the Judges prior cases.
One case comes to mind with regards to Judge Conahan. That would be the "correction" of the record of Bryan Kocis. Maybe just maybe it is going to come back and bite them in the ass. Now I don't know about any of you all but the murder of Mr. Kocis is going to bring more attention to the practices of the Luzerne County Judicial system.
I have always wondered if it was just a coincidence that Judge Conahan retired right before Joe and Harlow were arrested. Was that a calculated move to protect himself from the fallout of his prior ruling with regards to the murder victims criminal past.

Murder victim Bryan kocis pictured left and murder suspects Joe kerekes and Harlow Cuadra pictured right

The arrest of Joe and Harlow and the subsequent trial would bring to light much negativity with regards to the Judge's ruling on the murder victims case. Could that be the reason that Judge Ciavarella stepped into Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. case and allowed the suspects to have the same attorneys as the victim. It is rumored that Judge Conahan hand picked Judge Ciavarella as his successor. It really makes you wonder what is going on in Luzerne County. The "Times Leader" seems to be questioning the conduct of the judicial system of Luzerne county. I myself think it is high time. I wonder if Ciavarella is related to Conahan or Vita. Also there is the question of the "good friend" of Conahan who runs the youth detention facility that most of the juvenile criminals are sentenced to.

More questions raised over services of county juvenile court psychologist
Woman says family forced to use Vita’s services, at a cost of thousands.
Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.comLuzerne County Reporter
A Plains Township woman said a Luzerne County judge forced her and family members to undergo counseling with psychologist Frank Vita as part of her son’s juvenile court proceeding, costing her thousands of dollars out of her own pocket.

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Erica Michaliga said she now questions that court order in light of the recent revelation that Vita is the brother-in-law of Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Mike Conahan.
But Court of Common Pleas President Judge Mark Ciavarella, who signed the court order, said Michaliga is completely off base because she and her mother-in-law requested Vita in the first place.
“They were so happy with Dr. Vita after the psych evaluation, that they asked if they could continue to see him,” Ciavarella said. “They requested Dr. Vita.”
Michaliga said she initially welcomed Vita’s counseling because she thought it would be temporary and covered by insurance.
Michaliga said she doesn’t believe the judge made it clear that she had a choice. She said she frequently told Vita she was having difficulty paying him. She plans to review the court transcripts because she believes she raised concerns about the cost of the payment in court.
Vita got involved with the case because the county had paid him to conduct a psychological evaluation of her son, she said. Michaliga said Vita told her he was recommending counseling to the judge and offered to provide it. She said she thought it was a good idea to stay with him because Vita played a key role in the judge’s decision on where her son would be placed.
Ciavarella said Michaliga and her mother-in-law, who was also involved in the counseling, were free to choose any counselor, and he said he never received a request to switch counselors.
“I didn’t care what family counselor they went to. I never would have ordered Dr. Vita without their input,” he said.
The mother-in-law was not named in the documents, and Michaliga said the mother-in-law was not willing to speak to a reporter.
Michaliga said she paid Vita thousands of dollars and has asked him for a copy of bills so she may determine the exact amount. Vita could not be reached for comment on several attempts.
On July 7, 2006, Ciavarella ordered her to pay Vita $1,075 in overdue payments within 30 days. He said Michaliga was trying to “stiff” Vita.
Michaliga and Ciavarella have clashed in the past over a court case involving an insurance claim at Atmosphere Salon and Day Spa, which she used to own.
The county has paid Vita $1.1 million since 2001 to provide psychological evaluations of juvenile offenders, county records show.
County officials plan to publicly advertise the work before July 1 – something that wasn’t done in the past – to determine if other psychologists are interested. The cost of the service will also be considered, county officials say.
Vita charges $90 per hour and usually bills between 14 and 19 hours for work associated with each juvenile, his bills show.
The county probation office, which determines which clients are evaluated by Vita, reported Thursday that Vita saw 120 juvenile offenders in 2007 and 40 offenders this year to date.
Vita was paid $180,360 in 2007 and $74,160 so far this year.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Group alleges hundreds of county youths denied lawyers

A fun destination is awaiting you, Lovely Luzerne County in the picturesque Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. Where lawlessness is a way of life. Come and tour or Judicial system and be amazed by how it slaps the face of the Keystone state. This is the state where the Declaration of Independence and the bill of Rights were signed yet you would never know it by the way the courts operate there.

Group alleges hundreds of county youths denied lawyers
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker tmorgan@timesleader.comLaw & Order Reporter
WILKES-BARRE – Alleging youths are being denied their right to an attorney, a juvenile rights group Tuesday filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to intervene in hundreds of past and current Luzerne County juvenile court cases.
An attorney for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia said the center was prompted to act after research showed that 50 percent of youths who went through Luzerne County’s juvenile court system in 2005 and 2006 were not represented by an attorney – a figure the center says is 10 times the state average.
The failure to provide even the “most minimal” constitutional protections to those youths resulted in many making admissions of guilt without fully understanding their legal rights or the consequences, said Marsha Levick, the center’s legal director and one of the authors of the petition.
“Luzerne County’s juvenile court proceedings represent the most egregious violation of children’s constitutional rights in Pennsylvania,” Levick said. “When more than half of all youth appear in court without legal representation ... something is seriously wrong and it must be stopped.”
The petition was filed on behalf of two juveniles who went through the court system in 2007, as well as all juveniles with current cases.
It alleges the county’s juvenile judge, Mark Ciavarella, and juvenile probation officials have failed to follow regulations that require juveniles be advised they have a right to an attorney.
The petition further alleges court officials violated state regulations by allowing parents to waive a child’s right to counsel without the child’s consent, and that Ciavarella has failed to question youths who entered guilty pleas to ensure they understand the ramifications of proceeding without an attorney.
The center is asking the court to vacate decisions made in all cases dating from 2005 to present in which the juvenile was not represented by an attorney. It has identified 285 cases from 2005, and 281 from 2006. The number of cases in 2007 and 2008 is not yet known.
Ciavarella acknowledged Tuesday that a high percentage of youths who come before him are not represented by attorneys. He could not explain why the numbers were so much higher than other counties.
The judge said in many cases he believes parents opt not to obtain attorneys because they know their child is guilty.
He insisted parents are advised at every step of the process that their child is entitled to an attorney, and that one will be appointed if they cannot afford one.
“It’s not like they’re walking into this blind. They are advised on three different occasions they have a right to have a lawyer present,” Ciavarella said. “If they want waive their right to an attorney, that’s their business.”
The center’s petition is based on the cases Jessica Van Reeth, now 18, and a female identified as H.T., now 17.
Van Reeth was 16 when she was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. She and her parents allege they were never advised of her right to an attorney. She admitted guilt and was placed in a residential treatment facility for three months, even though it was her first involvement with police.
H.T. was charged with harassment in April 2007 for creating a Web page that contained derogatory information about an assistant principal at her school.
The girl, also a first-time offender, admitted her actions, was immediately carted off in handcuffs to begin serving a three months at a residential treatment facility.
The child’s mother acknowledged waiving the child’s right to an attorney, but the youth did not sign the waiver, as regulations require. The mother also claimed the child was never questioned to ensure she understood the potential consequences of entering a plea without first consulting an attorney, the petition says.
Ultimately, the child was returned home a few weeks later after the Juvenile Law Center intervened on her behalf and convinced Ciavarella to release her, based on the fact the child had not waived her right to an attorney.
Levick said the center felt at that point the issue was resolved. Since then, there have been at least three other cases in which juveniles alleged they were not afforded an opportunity for counsel, she said.
“When we got (H.T.’s) adjudication reversed we thought we wouldn’t have to do it again,” she said. “As we collected information over the next several moths, we realized we had made no difference. It apparently will take extraordinary action and extraordinary intervention by the Supreme Court to fix this.”
What’s Next
Ciavarella said he has contacted the attorney for the county’s juvenile probation department, who will file a response to the petition. The Supreme Court will review the documents and decide whether it will intervene.
Terrie Morgan-Besecker, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 570-829-7179

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.