Steffanie Rivers

Former Pennsylvania juvenile court Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. will be seeing the judicial system from a different vantage point from now on. Instead of holding the fate of thousands of teens in his hands, Ciavarella has been sentenced to 28 years in federal prison after he admitted to taking $2 million in bribes.

Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, used their influence to block state funding for county juvenile detention centers which made the way for two for-profit detention centers to be built in their jurisdiction.

Then Ciavarella went on a sentencing spree to ensure the two for-profit detention centers would be put to good use. Some of the children- as young as 10 and oftentimes first time offenders – didn’t have to go to jail, but Ciavarella ordered their incarceration anyway.

Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been forced to overturn 4,000 of his convictions between 2003 and 2008, and there are class action lawsuits from thousands of families affected by his rulings. One of the young offenders committed suicide last year. Conahan pled guilty last year and is scheduled to be sentenced soon.

In Tennessee former criminal court Judge Richard Baumgartner resigned his post after he pleaded guilty to taking cash and drugs from defendants in exchange for favorable judgments or not guilty verdicts. Baumgartner, who had served as a judge for more than nineteen years, was found out after a woman who was in the middle of a divorce took pictures of the judge’s vehicle in front of her estranged husband’s home and turned them over to her attorney. These are just two examples of what’s wrong with the legal system: Justice is only as fair as the people who are in control of it.

As much as I’d like to focus on the evil deeds and greedy nature of these men I learned a long time ago to focus on that which I can control: I can control my behavior, my reaction to things that happen to me and my associations. I can’t control other people. If I break the law or I behave in such a way as to put myself at the mercy of a legal system that has proven time and again that it can be prejudice and bought for a price, I am the first to deserve blame. And when it comes to reacting to
problems that come my way I find that it’s better to be more cerebral and less emotional in the heat of the moment. And if there’s one adage that holds true, it’s the one that says ‘birds of a feather flock together.’

Too many people are under the false impression that all there is to being a good parent is to feed, house and
clothe a child, but there is more to it than that (says the childless woman!). Even though mischievous behavior is a part of growing up, parents should teach their children that the most minor criminal offenses could derail an otherwise productive existence. Although your fate is not always in your control, don’t give police, judges and the like the opportunity or the reason to treat you unfairly. Behave in such a way that your actions are beyond reproach, and if you see trouble coming, don’t invite it to dinner; turn the other way and run.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at
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