Mistrial Request Denied In Ex-Pa. Judge's Trial

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Veteran federal judge Edwin Kosik isn't afraid to show his displeasure with lawyers appearing before him, chiding a defense attorney on Friday for "wasting time" during the corruption trial of a former northeastern Pennsylvania judge.

The comment prompted a demand for a mistrial in the case of former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, who is charged in a $2.8 million scheme to incarcerate youth offenders in privately owned detention centers. Kosik rejected the request and the trial continued.

Prosecutors allege that Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, received kickbacks from the builder of the PA Child Care detention center and a sister facility in western Pennsylvania, and extorted money from the private lockups' owner.

Ciavarella has pleaded innocent. Conahan has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and awaits sentencing.

Kosik's outburst came on the fourth day of testimony. As defense attorney Al Flora cross-examined a witness, Kosik cut him off, asking what the line of questioning had to do with the case. Flora complained that it was the second or third time the judge had raised objections to him.

"Are you suggesting that a judge can't intervene?" Kosik sputtered. "I have the right to move this trial along, whether the government objects or not. You don't have the right to waste time in this trial unless you're pursuing an appropriate subject under the rules."

That's when Flora moved for a mistrial.

"You're motion is denied," replied Kosik, 85, who has been a judge for 40 years and was appointed to the federal bench by then-President Ronald Reagan.

Kosik can be hard on prosecutors, too. He became irritated as testimony about Conahan's tax returns dragged.

"I don't hesitate in commenting that you have been punishing us all afternoon," he told a prosecutor.

Earlier Friday, Luzerne County court official Paul McGarry testified that he believed Conahan was acting in the best interest of children when he shut down the dilapidated county-owned juvenile detention center in late 2002. PA Child Care opened for business less than two months later.

McGarry didn't know at the time that Conahan, then the president judge, and Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, were in line to receive a $1 million kickback from the builder of PA Child Care. But his testimony left unclear what, if anything, he would have done about it.

McGarry, who reported to Conahan, said the county's lockup needed to be closed because it was infested with cockroaches and rodents, the roof leaked, the plumbing and heating systems were broken, and the building had no classrooms, indoor recreational facilities, medical facilities or rooms where parents could see their incarcerated children.

At Conahan's direction, McGarry approached the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners in October 2002 and said that youth offenders would no longer be sent to the old juvenile facility. The decision alarmed the commissioners, who wanted the detention center to remain open until a new one could be built by the county.

Asked by a prosecutor Friday whether he would have followed orders had he known about the secret payment, McGarry hedged.

"I don't what I would have done," said McGarry. In response to another question, he said: "The problem is I work for the president judge. I did my job as assigned."

His answers raised eyebrows because a state panel that investigated the so-called "kids for cash" scandal found that a code of silence among courthouse workers allowed corruption to flourish.

McGarry, who still works for the Luzerne County court system as director of human resources, sought to clarify his testimony to reporters who pressed him on it after he left the witness stand.

"If I was aware that Luzerne County judges were involved in a scheme like what has been uncovered, I wouldn't have reacted the same way," said McGarry, adding that he felt betrayed by Conahan. "I would not have followed the directions of the president judge."

The defense contends that Ciavarella had no involvement in the negotiation of a series of contracts to send youth offenders to PA Child Care, including a 2004 lease in which the three-member Board of Commissioners agreed to pay the facility $58 million over 20 years.

However the deal came about, McGarry testified that he was stunned by the amount.

"I almost fell off the chair," he said. "The $58 million was staggering to me."

Luzerne County canceled its contract with PA Child Care after the scandal came to light.