Litigation stemming from the largest judicial scandal in Pennsylvania history has come to
a close after a federal judge approved a near $18 million class action settlement in the civil case.
In a 48-page memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, simultaneously certified the classes, approved the multi-million-dollar settlement and awarded attorneys’ fees and costs in the collective case against former Luzerne County judges Mark A. Ciavarella, Michael T. Conahan and the developer who constructed the private detention facilities that were subject to the court scandal, in which the jurists were accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for sending youngsters to the privately run jails.
Caputo’s ruling also denied the defendants’ objections to the settlement for lack of standing.
The judge had preliminarily approved the settlement back in late February of this year.
The latest ruling comes on the heels of a Nov. 19 hearing addressing final approval.
The case arose out of allegations that Ciavarella and Conahan conspired to send children accused of otherwise minor offenses to PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, two youth detention facilities built by developer Robert K. Mericle and his company, Mericle Construction Inc.
The first civil case arising from the scandal, Wallace v. Powell, was filed at the federal court in Scranton, Pa. in mid-February 2009.
That case was originally filed as a class action, although the complaint was subsequently amended in May 2009 to proceed on behalf of a number of individual juvenile and parent plaintiffs, the record shows.
Soon, a handful more civil cases were filed against the same defendants, both putative class actions and individual suits.
A master long form complaint was eventually created to consolidate the actions.
The ruling states that under the terms of the settlement agreement, Mericle has agreed to pay $17,750,000.
The settlement provides a final resolution of the plaintiffs’ claims against Mericle and the Luzerne County parties.
The judge also approved of $4,335,000 in attorneys’ fees to be doled out as part of the settlement.
The court ruling states that the settlement funds will soon begin being distributed to about 3,000 teenagers and their parents who were caught up in the judicial scandal.
Ciavarella, who was formerly the president judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison in the summer of 2011 following his racketeering conviction in February of that year.
Conahan pleaded guilty to similar charges and was sentenced to 17-and-a-half years in federal lockup in late September of last year.
Mericle pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony and awaits sentencing, according to the Associated Press.
The case is generally considered to be the biggest scandal to hit the state judiciary in modern history.