Pa. judicial kickback scandal yields reform in juvenile court procedure

    A bill drafted to protect a child’s right to a lawyer in court is now law in Pennsylvania. It was proposed to help clean up after the so-called “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County.

    The law will protect a minor’s right to have a defense attorney with him or her in Pennsylvania’s juvenile courts.

    It’s a crucial reform to prevent another “kids for cash” scenario, in which two judges took bribes from the owner of juvenile detention centers in exchange for sentencing minors to terms in those facilities.

    Some of the children caught up in that scandal indicated they were intimidated into waiving their right to legal counsel.

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    That wouldn’t happen under the new law, says Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne.

    She says she hopes it brings some closure to families marred by the actions of two corrupt judges.

    “One of the moms who had a son commit suicide appeared before our judiciary committee last year in support of these and her goal, and her view, was that there be a positive system change to come out of her son’s very tragic death,” Baker said.

    More than half of the juveniles who appeared in the court didn’t have lawyers at their side — something that Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, says boggles the mind.

    “To see the look in their eyes when they had to turn to their parents after hearing that they would be shackled, and immediately taken out of the court and taken to a juvenile justice system,” he said. “It’s unimaginable as a parent. It’s unimaginable as a person in public life.”

    The bill’s sponsor says other reforms are still in the pipeline, including one that would prohibit the shackling of juveniles in court.

    It has passed in the state Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature.

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