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.

3 Replies to "Lawyers for Children are Unconstitutional in PA"

  • JMH
    April 2, 2009 (2:45 pm)

    Justice Castille’s motives aside, he is correct in stating that we cannot constitutionally impose a requirement that a person retain an attorney. We can, of course, make lawyers available to juveniles at our cost or adopt other measures intended to ensure that any waiver of the right to counsel is voluntary, i.e, made with full knowledge of the right and without coercion of any type.

  • James R. Marsh
    April 3, 2009 (11:38 am)

    The primary consideration in this situation is that these are minors who cannot independently hire an attorney. It is also questionable whether a minor can waive the right to counsel since minors, due to their legal status, cannot agree to enforceable contracts, etc. If a minor cannot contract or hire an attorney, how can they lawfully waive the right to counsel? And how do we know their parents or guardians are acting in there best interest in these cases? The fact that these are minors makes this different than the Chief’s “we are going to enforce this on people and therefore it’s unconstitutional” argument.

  • Larry Hohol
    January 30, 2010 (12:53 pm)

    I believe there is something very sinister at play here. The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader and the Citizen’s Voice both reported that the Chairman of the Judicial Conduct Board was Patrick Judge. Mr. Judge was business partners with Judge Conahan during the time period in question. I believe that the JCB has been compromised for a long period of time. I personally filed a complaint against a Luzerne County Judge in the mid 90’s. After a year long investigation by the Chief Investigator of the Board, my case was dropped via a two sentence denial. This was after the Chief Investigator advised me that he was preparing all of the documents necessary to begin formal proceedings against the judge. My complaint was rock solid and provable.

    Larry Hohol-