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Penn. judge convicted in detention center scheme also faces lawsuit

By Antoinette Campbell, CNN
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Fmr. Pa. judge guilty in bribery scandal
  • Mark Ciavarella is one of two judges facing a class-action civil suit
  • Ciavarella was convicted in a kickback case involving juvenile detention centers
  • Woman whose son committed suicide after being sentenced lashed out at ex-judge
  • Ciavarella "killed his spirit," mother Sandy Fonzo says

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania judge recently convicted for putting juveniles into "for-profit" detention centers is being sued, a civil rights attorney said Monday.

The class-action civil lawsuit was originally filed in 2009. It names several defendants, including Mark Ciavarella, whose alleged illegal actions date back to 2003, on and off the bench.

The former Luzerne County judge was found guilty Friday of 12 of 39 racketeering and fraud charges for accepting millions of dollars in bribes from friends who owned detention centers to which he sent juveniles.

"I can't say I've ever seen something as bad as kids being incarcerated for no reason at all," attorney Barry Dyller told CNN affiliate WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The case against Ciavarella made national headlines when a distraught mother lashed out at the former judge Friday after his conviction.

Sandy Fonzo's 17-year-old son, Edward Kenzakowski, spent six months in a detention center after Ciavarella sentenced him for possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to Fonzo, her son, who had no prior record, was never able to recover and eventually took his own life.

"He (Ciavarella) killed his spirit," Fonzo told CNN, "He crushed him, and he didn't help him." She said her son was full of resentment and pent-up anger after being sent to the detention center.

"He was just never the same," Fonzo said.

She said she came to the courthouse believing Ciavarella would be taken straight to jail. But when she found out he was going home with his daughter, she was shocked and angered, and she shouted at Ciavarella.

"Do you remember me?" Fonzo screamed, lunging toward Ciavarella, "Do you remember my son?" she screamed again. "He's gone," she cried, "He shot himself in the heart, you scumbag!"

Fonzo was then subdued and moved away from Ciavarella.

The class-action suit alleges that Ciavarella and another judge devised a "material scheme to abuse the juvenile system and deprive allegedly delinquent children and their parents of clearly established civil rights for significant personal gain."

The suit alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; civil conspiracy; wrongful imprisonment; and violation of due process and civil rights.

It also alleges the activity goes back several years and includes Ciavarella and his wife, Cynthia; and another former judge, Michael Conahan, and his wife, Barbara.

It names the facilities used by the judges, their owners and anyone who helped build or operate them, or collect any money in connection with the "alleged scheme."

Dyller said families whose children had been wrongly imprisoned began reaching out to him after charges were brought against Ciavarella.

"Thousands of kids appeared before Mark Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. That's the time period we're looking at," Dyller told WBRE.

The suit also alleges the defendants "prohibited or discouraged juveniles from having legal representation during court proceedings," creating the potential for an increased number of juvenile offenders to be sent to specific detention facilities.

Ciavarella is free on bond until his sentencing. He could face up to 157 years in prison.

"There is no justice," Fonzo said.

"(Ciavarella) will never receive my sentence," she said. "I have nothing."