Thursday, December 25, 2014

Harsh treatment in Ciavarella's courtroom detailed

Hillary Transue created a MySpage page mocking her assistant principal. Her mother, right, unknowingly waived counsel, and Judge Mark A. Ciaverella Jr. dispensed with the case in a minute. (AP)
Hillary Transue created a MySpage page mocking her assistant principal. Her mother, right, unknowingly waived counsel, and Judge Mark A. Ciaverella Jr. dispensed with the case in a minute. (AP)

Hillary Transue was in the 10th grade when she found herself in Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.'s courtroom on a harassment charge. She had created a fictitious MySpace page attributed to an assistant principal.

It was a prank. The principal's hobbies on the social networking website included "collecting Johnny Depp's underwear," Transue said.

She showed up at the Luzerne County courthouse in 2007 with her mother, Laurene, who had figured that a public defender would be there to help.

"Do you have an attorney?" a woman sitting at a fold-up table outside the courtroom asked her.

Laurene Transue said no, and then was told to sign a form. She did, thinking she was getting a lawyer, unknowingly waiving her daughter's right to counsel.

Inside the courtroom, Ciavarella tore into the student:

"What makes you think you have a right to do this kind of crap?" he said, according to a transcript.

He dispensed with the case within a minute, her mother said. He asked the 15-year-old, who was a good student, whether she remembered him speaking at her school.

She did remember, but she couldn't recall exactly what he had said, according to the testimony included in Thursday's report from the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice.

"You can't remember that?" Ciavarella asked her.

"No, sir," she said.

"It's going to come back to you because I didn't go to that school, I didn't walk around in that school, and I didn't speak to that student body just to scare you, just to blow smoke, just to make you think I would do that when I wouldn't. I'm a man of my word. You're gone."

Laurene Transue screamed as officers led her daughter away.

She contacted the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, whose lawyers helped her free her daughter after the girl served a month at a wilderness camp. Eventually, lawyers at the center discovered that such punishment had been multiplied by the thousands. The center later filed a lawsuit against the judges on behalf of the victims.

Reached at her mother's home in Luzerne County, Hillary Transue said she was grateful for the commission's attention to her case and those of thousands of other young people.

"I'm excited that there is a report at all, that someone said here is what's wrong with the system," said the girl, a sophomore in college in New Hampshire.

"It's nice to know someone cared enough to make these recommendations."

 


Contact staff writer Trish Wilson at 610-313-8095 or twilson@phillynews.com.

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