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Motion for juveniles to be filed

Juvenile Law Center pursuing Luzerne County cases in which youth offenders did not have attorneys.

WILKES-BARRE – Attorneys with a juvenile advocacy group say they intend to file a motion today with the state Supreme Court renewing their request that the court overturn hundreds of Luzerne County cases in which juveniles were not represented by an attorney.

In April, the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia filed a motion with the high court, asking it to force juvenile court officials to identify every case in which a child appeared without an attorney and was adjudicated delinquent – the adult court version of being found guilty.

The petition requested the court vacate decisions rendered in cases in which the youth was incarcerated or remained under probation, and that it expunge the records of all other youths whose cases had already gone through the system. The state Department of Public Welfare and state Office of Attorney General later filed briefs in support of the petition.

Laval Miller-Wilson, a senior attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, said the filing of legal briefs related to the case was completed in June. The court has yet to rule on the petition, however, prompting the center to take the unusual move of filing a “post submission communication” with the court, reminding it of the importance of the case.

“The statement we are trying to send the court and the folks up there is we have not forgotten about the youths in Luzerne County,” Miller-Wilson said.

“We filed this to notify the Supreme Court the claims are still valid and are not moot.”

The center was prompted to file its original action based on statistics that showed 50 percent of youths who went through the Luzerne County juvenile court system in 2005 and 2006 were not represented by an attorney – a figure the center said is 10 times the state average.

Miller-Wilson said that practice changed after President Judge Mark Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court for 12 years, stepped down in May and assigned Judge David Lupas to the court.

The center is pleased the constitutional violations are no longer occurring, he said. But that does not remedy the harm that was done to past juveniles who were adjudicated delinquent without the benefit of consulting an attorney to explore a possible defense or to advise them of the consequences they could face if they pleaded guilty, he said.

“We still have hundreds of past violations of youths who appeared without counsel. Those claims still need to be heard,” he said.

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