Taxpayers footing "Kids for Cash" judge's appeal

Tue Jan 10, 2012 7:27pm EST

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(Reuters) - Taxpayers will foot the bill for a former Pennsylvania judge's appeal of his conviction in a bribery scandal dubbed "kids for cash" because he is now impoverished, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a ruling issued Monday, granted former Luzerne County juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella's request for court-appointed lawyers to handle his appeal. The court found Ciavarella to be indigent and eligible for government-funded legal services.

Albert Flora and William Ruzzo, the lawyers who represented Ciavarella during his criminal trial, will continue to handle his appeal. While Ciavarella originally retained the lawyers at his own cost, he is now financially unable to cover their fees, Flora said in an interview.

Under the Criminal Justice Act, court-appointed lawyers earn $125 per hour of work, subject to a cap of $6,900. "That's not per lawyer. That's total," Flora said.

Prosecutors in 2009 accused Ciavarella of accepting nearly $1 million from a developer who built a for-profit detention facility.

Under the "kids for cash" scheme, Ciavarella and another former judge, Michael Conahan, sent thousands of juveniles to the center on minor or questionable charges, according to juvenile advocates.

During his trial, Ciavarella testified the money he received amounted to a "finder's fee" for introducing the developer to the facility's co-owner and had no connection to the fact that he was a sentencing judge.

Ciavarella was convicted last February of 12 charges, including racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison and is currently serving his term in a federal prison in Illinois, Flora said.

Conahan pled guilty in the scheme and is serving a 17-1/2 year sentence at a federal prison in Florida, Flora said.

(Reporting by Terry Baynes)

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