40% of the judges as well as the former presiding judge in Luzerne County, PA have left the bench amid corruption scandals:
- Judge Ann H. Lokuta was removed on December 9, 2008 by the state Supreme Court.
- Judge Peter Paul Olszewski was kicked off the bench by the voters in November, 2009.
- Judge Michael T. Toole resigned after pleading guilty on December 28, 2009 to federal corruption charges for concealing his free use of a beach house owned by an attorney who represented plaintffs in an underinsured motorist case as well as failing to report a $30,000 bribe from another attorney on his tax return.
- Judge Mark A. Civarella, Jr. and former presiding Judge Michael T. Conahan plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks. They will serve 87 months in prison.
The New York Times reported:
Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for [two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care] to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled. . .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.
. . .Luzerne County, an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been battered by a loss of industrial jobs and the closing of most of its anthracite coal mines. . .
With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kick back scheme in motion in December 2002. . .shut down the county-run juvenile detention center. . .judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida. . .
Senior (retired) Judge C. Joseph Rehkamp was assigned to hear the cases left on Michael T. Toole’s docket. Two are capital murder trials. He was also assigned the case of a county commissioner:
- Donnell Bucker, 35, of Wilkes-Barre, is accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife in March. The murder was witnessed by her three children ~ ages 9, 11, and 12.
- Hugo Selenski is accused of strangling a pharmacist and his girlfriend and burying their bodies behind his Kingston Township home.
- Former Cumberland County commissioner Bruce Barclay beat the rap of raping his roommate, William McCurdy, in April, 2008. His defense was based on evidence from a hidden videotaping system. Barclay was then charged with 13 counts of invasion of privacy. wiretapping, and promoting prostitution.
Judge Rehkamp Is Charged with Domestic Violence
On January 16, Judge Rehkamp, 61, and his second wife Valerie, 50, went out to a couple of restaurants to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Valerie was the designated driver. According to Mrs. Rehkamp’s request for protection from abuse (PFA), the good judge “became quite intoxicated. . .shouting the f-word and being obnoxious with the bartender and waitress.” Mrs. Rehkamp told him he couldn’t stay at their home. He called her an “ass—” and charged after her.
The argument escalated about 8:34 PM. The judge allegedly pushed his wife down, slamming her body into a chair before placing both hands around her neck and choking her. The police report indicated she had red marks on her neck.
Mrs. Rehkamp’s 18-year-old son Lee Elliott Egenlauf apparently stopped the attack. The judge left ~ presumably still quite intoxicated ~ in his car. The police were called. A warrant was issued for the judge’s arrest on charges of simple assault and summary harassment. If it had been an ordinary citizen, I’m fairly certain the charges might have been attempted murder.
About 22 hours later, Judge Rehkamp turned himself in to the state police. Mrs. Rehkamp requested a PFA.
Rehkamp Suspended from the Bench
On January 20, Senior Judge Carson V. Brown issued a temporary PFA barring the judge from contact with his wife or her two sons.
Ronald D. Castille, the chief justice of the PA state supreme court, suspended Judge Rehkamp. He hired criminal defense attorney William Costopoulos who told the Sentinel:
My hope is that we can get Judge Rehkamp back on the bench in the near future.
This is not a public corruption charge. . .I don’t believe that his credibility as a jurist has been forever damaged. I happen to believe that on many levels it could make him a better person and a better judge. . .This ordeal has been very difficult for him to accept, and emotionally it has been pretty distressing.
I’m dumfounded by his arrogant audacity.
Costopoulos Pressures the Judge’s Wife to Drop Charges
By January 29, Costopoulos had “persuaded” Mrs. Rehkamp to agree to postpone the court hearing on the PFA. Her attorney, Kim Ann Giombetti, said she was focusing on rebuilding her life and filing for divorce.
Two weeks later, it appeared the pressure was working. Ms. Giombetti told the Sentinel the couple was considering “keeping the marriage intact.”
“No Victim, no crime, the case is dismissed.”
CitizensVoice.com reported today that Magisterial District Judge Donald L. Whittaker refused to allow Assistant District Attorney Nancy Violi to question Mrs. Rehkamp today:
No victim, no crime, the case is dismissed.
Costopoulos told the reporter that the couple has been discussing a financial arrangement under which she would drop criminal charges and they would ultimately move for a divorce.
Rehkamp Failed to Pay Alimony to First Wife
After a bitter divorce, in August, 2008, Rehkamp retired from his position as President of the 41st PA Judicial District (Juniata and Perry counties). In court records, his ex-wife Kerry Ragette Rehkamp, claimed the judge had not made his monthly alimony payments of $3,200 since he retired.
On October 27, 2009, Perry County Senior Judge Charles B. Smith ruled the judge will be required to pay his ex-wife about $1,750/month in alimony and $492.25 for health insurance plus $1,405 for her legal fees. The monthly payments are to be deducted from his paycheck. This is what courts typically do with deadbeats so their ex-spouses don’t end up being a drain on the welfare system.
It seems his old buddies on the bench have Judge Rehkamp’s back. No wonder his current wife caved. I hope she will be safe.
Acknowledgements and Full Disclosure: Thanks to Proud Military Mom and Uppity Woman for the heads-up on this story which I initially thought was “just” about a corrupt judge who engaged in domestic violence behind closed doors. I’ve seen more than my share of judicial corruption up-close-and-personal. And, I’m stunned by the depth and breadth of the corruption in PA courts. Despite the federal probe, the judge’s attorney had the audacity to tell a reporter that his goal was to get a corrupt judge back on the bench as quickly as possible! In essence, he was “flipping the bird” at the prosecutors. And, he was sending a clear message to the judge’s wife: “don’t f*** with us.”
During law school, I clerked for a custody judge in the Domestic Relations Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, IL (Chicago). He shot himself the night before he was to be indicted in the federal corruption probe Operation Greylord for taking bribes when he was assigned to traffic court. He was an ex-Marine who had a strange code of ethics. After his death, I learned from someone who had been in his court for a DUI that the judge believed the drunk driving laws did little to curb drunk driving. So, he set $10,000 “fines” (which were donated to charity) on the guys dumb enough to drive drunk. My friend confessed that he never drove drunk again. He admitted to me that it was an effective strategy. . .especially in Chicago. . .where the only real crimes were constructing an ugly building and parking in somebody else’s excavated parking space after a blizzard. The cops investigated homocides and issued parking tickets. Every other crime essentially went unprosecuted.
Operation Greylord also caught in its net the presiding judge of the court’s most prestigious division. I was devastated to discover ~ up-close-and-personal ~ that a judge I had deeply admired was corrupt. He was eventually sentenced to hard time in a federal prison. He had been DePaul University’s Law School’s most highly esteemed alum. DePaul was the law school of choice for attorneys who aspired to be judges in Chicago.
This was all the buzz at a law school alumni dinner in 1991. The judge was a guest of a fellow alum. Because he was from out-of-state, he didn’t get the nervous, Irish-style jokes. I interpreted. He said he loved cats which was magic to my ears, but it wasn’t as seductive as hearing that judicial corruption like Operation Greylord wouldn’t be tolerated in his state. About 8 months later, he put a loaded gun to my head and said he could kill me “and get away with it.” He wasn’t kidding around. I got a restraining order. Six years later, he was elected to his state’s supreme court on the platform that he had “extensive experience in family and child abuse.” Right on, mister! Hands-on experience. So, I know what it is to go into court and know I’m not going to see justice. I’ve been in a car while the judge drank martinis from a tumbler. I’ve helped judges to their cars after dinner at our house because they were too drunk to walk by themselves. These guys drove home down the freeway with impunity. What cop would be dumb enough to arrest them?
This is why I resigned from the practice of law in two states and started blogging.