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// –>Ann Harris makes no excuses for her behavior as a teenager.But she can find no excuse other than greed to explain the behavior of Judge Mark A. Ciavarella — one of two Luzerne County judges who are facing jail time for what has been dubbed the “Kids for Cash” scandal.

Harris (who asked that her real name not be used to protect her privacy) was a 16-year-old, heroin-addicted, ninth-grade dropout in January 2003 when she first appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom on charges of simple assault that stemmed from a fight with her boyfriend.

It was Harris’ first arrest, and she trusted the judge to be fair in his treatment of her. At the outset, she said, he was.

“At first, I really liked him,” she said.

After she pleaded guilty, Ciavarella sentenced Harris to 90 days at the adolescent drug-treatment center in which she had enrolled shortly after she was arrested. Then, when she violated terms of her probation by using heroin again, he sent her to a youth crisis center in Utah, where she spent the next 14 months before being released to a halfway house in Altoona.

At the halfway house, Harris claims, she was sexually harassed by a male counselor. To escape his abuse, she ran away for one day before returning voluntarily. She had not used any drugs while away, but the infraction was enough to put her before Ciavarella again.

Harris told the judge about the ordeal with the counselor, thinking it would soften his



response.“I remember breaking down into tears and telling him that I was harassed by my counselor. And he told me he would look into it,” she recalled. “But then I was remanded before he even checked into it. … He was just so cold. He didn’t care.”

Harris was shocked when the judge sentenced her to nine to 12 months at PA Child Care, a prison-like juvenile detention center.

“I thought I might be sent to another, maybe stricter halfway house,” she said.

With no lawyer to defend her, Harris had no choice but to go to the detention center. She ended up serving six months before being released a month before her 18th birthday.

“It was like a jail,” she recalled. “It has cinderblock walls, and you have your own little cell with a metal bed, and metal drawers, and a little metal desk.”

Sentencing kids to PA Child Care was common practice for Ciavarella.

At the urging of the Juvenile Law Center, which noticed his inordinate number of harsh sentences, state authorities eventually investigated Ciavarella and learned that, between 2003-08, he sent hundreds of juveniles to the facility for offenses as minor as presenting false identification when caught driving without a license and conspiracy to shoplift. In many cases, the juveniles had no lawyer, because the judge did not advise them of their right to one.

In February, Ciavarella and a fellow judge, Michael T. Conahan pleaded guilty to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from the builder and former owner of PA Child Care detention center for helping them to construct the facility, and a similar one in Butler County, and agreeing to sentence juveniles there. In all, the facilities’ raked in more than $30 million in contracts and detainee charges from the county.

In a plea agreement, the judges agreed to serve 87 months in prison. They are free on bond while a federal court reviews the plea.

The owner of the detention center, Robert Powell, and the builder, Robert Mericle, are cooperating with prosecutors and have not been charged.

Harris is now 22 and lives in Lebanon with her fiancee and their 2-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter. She has earned her high-school diploma and stayed out of trouble since being released from PA Child Care in October 2005. Most importantly, she has not used heroin since 2005, although she does take methadone to stay off it.

Harris said she was a normal girl who loved riding horses and competing in horse shows before starting to use drugs. Her parents were divorced, and her mother worked nights as a pharmacist, often leaving her alone and unsupervised. Craving attention, in eighth grade she started hanging out with the wrong group of friends.

“I was a good kid. I really was,” she said. “I played the clarinet in my church choir. But one thing I was never good at was making friends. And that is what using drugs did — I made friends. I started losing weight and guys started noticing me. I wanted attention and friends that I had never had before. And that is what took me down that path.”

When Harris was arrested, her mother was relieved.

“I saw it as an opportunity to get her help and get her out of that environment,” said Helen Murray (also a fictitious name), who still lives in Luzerne County.

Murray and her daughter have mixed feelings about Ciavarella because Harris’ time spent at Cinnamon Hills Youth Crisis Center in Utah was life-changing — perhaps life-saving.

“It helped me out a lot,” said Harris. “When I went there, I was very unsure of myself. I was a very depressed person and very insecure. They have a really good therapy program, and you get individual help. I came out of there and I didn’t have that low self-esteem anymore.”

Harris and her mother have joined a class-action civil lawsuit filed by the Juvenile Law Center on behalf of about 125 juveniles who were sentenced by Ciavarella.

Although the lawsuit asks for damages, Murray said she just wants to see her daughter’s record expunged.

Recently, the Supreme Court did expunge the records of hundreds of Luzerne County juveniles. Harris was not among them, but hundreds more are being reviewed, and she still holds out hope.

Harris and her mother are not vindictive; they do not feel a need to confront Ciavarella.

“I am able to move along with my life,” said Harris. “I mean, that is what I am doing. I am happy being a mother. That is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love it. It is absolutely a joy.”