I previously wrote about the two Luzerne County judges, Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan who pleaded guilty in February to sentencing juveniles to secure detention facilities from which they received $2.6 million in kickbacks. Others associated with these events have also been charged.
The wrongdoings of the judges centered on the following:
- neither the juveniles nor their families were advised by the judges of their right to counsel,
- guilty pleas were accepted without explaining what the minors were charged with,
- and parents’ wages were garnished to pay for the costs of detention;
- the judges summarily and routinely ordered that youths who had committed relatively minor offenses be sent to residential youth detention facilities.
The detention centers, with the two judges’ assistance, received more than $30 million in county contracts.
The story deserves and has received national attention. A recent article in the The American Bar Association Journal takes the position that lawyers who regularly entered the two judges’ courtrooms had an obligation to “blow the whistle” on the judges, whether or not the lawyers represented any of the juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella or Conahan.
In fact, it was uniformly true that the juveniles were never represented by counsel. And that is one of the lessons from the Luzerne County fiasco. Litigants need attorneys before they even think about entering a courtroom.
In the insurance claims area, it is sometimes possible to handle a claim on your own without the help of a lawyer. For instance, in small property damage and small personal injury claims you may not need a lawyer. But you can bet that the insurance company will do its best to take advantage of you. The insurance company is in the profit making business. They are not around to help you with your claim.
I preach the following in any Pennsylvania accident or injury case: before you sign any forms, or before you give the insurance company a statement, consult with a qualified personal injury lawyer. That does not necessarily mean hire a personal injury lawyer. That means consult with one and then make an educated decision on how to deal with the insurance company.
The court system is not designed to protect the individual. You must be prepared to look out for your own interests.