Lawyers for Children are Unconstitutional in PA
No surprise here: legislation requiring any juvenile who appears in court to be represented by a lawyer would be unconstitutional according to PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille.
This is PA’s official judicial response to the Luzerne County PA scandal in which former Common Pleas judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty in February to taking $2.6 million in bribes to put juveniles in private detention centers. Hundreds of youngsters were sent to facilities without the benefit of legal counsel.
State Senator Lisa Baker, a Republican who represents part of Luzerne County, perhaps said it best (in comments which could apply to many governmental institutions in her state and elsewhere):
“Everyone fervently hopes the Luzerne County mess is an appalling anomaly, Yet, too many eyes were averted, too many voices were held silent, too many people were intimidated, too many troubling statistics were discounted, too many warning signs were ignored for people to accept the argument this cannot happen again. What we announce today is a start, to remedy injustice and to reform a system that lacks sufficient openness or oversight to prevent corruption.”
Castille’s Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit in January filed by the Juvenile Law Center which requested relief for juveniles who appeared in a Luzerne County courtroom without lawyers. So much for official oversight.
Asked if the Supreme Court should have recognized the problem earlier, Castille said no. “We’re not an investigative body.”
Castille then ironically pledged “to the citizens of Pennsylvania that the Supreme Court will do all in its power to ensure that justice is done fairly and honestly in Luzerne County and in every courtroom in this Commonwealth every day.”
How he plans on “ensuring justice” without investigatory powers or court appointed counsel is anyone’s guess.