Thursday, August 6, 2009

Judge recommends that $3.5 million verdict against newspaper be vacated

In an August 3, 2009 report, Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt recommended that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacate the verdict in a defamation case involving The Citizens' Voice newspaper. The Judge found, among other things, that the involvement of former Luzerne county judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella in the case created the appearance of impropriety. He also recommended a new bench trial.

Conahan and Ciavarella were involved in the defamation case against The Scranton Times at various points during pre-trial proceedings. Ciavarella ultimately presided over the bench trial in 2006 and ruled against the newspaper company, awarding $3.5 million to the plaintiffs. Both judges resigned in 2009 in the wake of a juvenile court scandal, which resulted in the judges pleading guilty to federal charges.

The Scranton Times filed an application for the Exercise of the King’s Bench Power or Extraordinary Jurisdiction which the PA Supreme Court granted in April, 2009. The Court then appointed President Judge Platt to preside over the remand hearing and make recommendations to the court.

After a two-day hearing, Judge Platt found that the conduct and judgment of Conahan and Ciavarella in the Joseph case, along with the relationships each former judge had with individuals connected with that case, created the appearance of impropriety and required that the verdict be vacated.

Read the opinion here: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Supreme/out/19mm2009report.pdf.

The Citizens' Voice story is here: http://www.thetimes-tribune.com/judge_recommends_3_5_m_defamation_verdict_be_vacated.

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