Saturday, February 14, 2009

Crooked judges and the powerful emergence of corruption

[My original post is below, but the subsequent "update" is more interesting ...]

These guys might just qualify as evil. They had their full faculties (emphases mine)...
Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit -

... At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.

Prosecutors say Judges Michael T. Conahan, and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., above, took kickbacks to send teenagers to detention centers.

Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment....

... the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention....
I assume they only got 7 years because they were plead guilty to secondary crimes (wire fraud) rather than the to far greater crimes sentencing unjustly for personal enrichment.

The civil suits will take whatever money they have left.

I'm opposed to the death penalty for many reasons, but it is possible to be tempted.

Update 2/15/09: I've been thinking about this. On reflection, the story is both more ambiguous and even more educational than I'd thought. Consider these stories (a lot have to do with health care conflicts of interest, but that might be because I am a physician and follow those stories) ...
The real lesson is the old one -- who watches the watchers. Humans are very bad at managing our own conflicts of interest. Our self-judgments are easily warped.

We vary of course. Con men love marks who are certain of their sharpness. I'm guessing the men (it seems to be men, doesn't it) most sure of their probity, most certain they won't be so easily corrupted, are easily taken. One day, years from now, with nothing more to think of, maybe these judges will finally realize how far they fell. Maybe not.

Doubt yourself. Be skeptical of your integrity. Above all, be sure that others can see what you're doing, and be in a position to blow the whistle.

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