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Ciavarella’s testimony for use in suit sought

Law firm asks judge to allow ex-jurist’s words in bid to overturn $3.4M award.

WILKES-BARRE – Attorneys for a Hazleton-based law firm asked a judge on Monday to allow them to use recent testimony of former county Judge Mark Ciavarella in their quest to overturn a $3.4 million legal malpractice lawsuit.

Jeffrey McCarron, of the Laputka, Bayless, Ecker and Cohn law firm, filed court papers Monday stating that Ciavarella testified on July 1 at a court proceeding involving Thomas Joseph and the Scranton Times LP, the parent company of The Citizens’ Voice newspaper, that he knew he should have made it known to litigants his relationship with attorney Robert Powell, but feared indictment and jail time.

Ciavarella and former Judge Michael Conahan were the first charged in an ongoing public corruption probe, including former Luzerne County and area school district officials, as well as Powell, who is a former co-owner of the private PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care centers. Powell told investigators the judges demanded payments in exchange for closing the county’s juvenile detention center and sending youths who came before them to the private centers.

Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty to the charges, but their plea agreements were recently rejected by a federal judge.

McCarron said Monday in court papers that Ciavarella’s testimony, which includes statements Ciavarella made that he should have recused himself from court proceedings Powell was involved in and in which he knew he had a conflict of interest, should be admitted into the record regarding the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Laputka law firm recently filed three motions, requesting that a judge allow them to use information released regarding the plea agreements of the former judges.

The Laputka firm is seeking to negate a jury verdict entered in favor of Bernadette Slusser. Slusser’s family filed a legal malpractice case against the Laputka firm alleging it provided faulty legal representation in a series of lawsuits related to land transactions.

McCarron said Ciavarella testified on July 1 that “he should have made known to litigants who appeared before (him) in cases where Mr. Powell was representing a party that (Ciavarella) was receiving money from Powell” and that Ciavarella testified “he knew that if he disclosed his relationship with Mr. Powell he would have been indicted, prosecuted, forced to leave the bench, disbarred and sent to prison.”

Powell is a partner in the law firm that represents the Slussers.

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