It's not merely that two men in judges' robes - Ciavarella, along with former Luzerne President Judge Michael T. Conahan - are alleged to have raked in $2.9 million in return for dispatching children and teens to for-profit detention centers. That abuse of power would be shocking enough, a scandal that summons images of a harsh Dickensian era.
Beyond that, though, the scandal exposed a system of juvenile justice that was structured in such a way as to deny juveniles their most basic rights to due process and fairness at the hands of the courts.
Conahan pleaded guilty to a single corruption count and is awaiting sentencing. Ciavarella joined Conahan in an earlier guilty plea, but decided to fight the charges after a federal judge concluded the two men were trying to downplay their offenses. Now a jury that is being seated in Scranton will get to decide Ciavarella's dubious claim that he "didn't sell any kids down the river."
What's beyond dispute, though, is that Ciavarella was able to dispense frontier-style justice in large part because more than half the juveniles appeared before him without an attorney. The youths and their families had been talked into waiving their right to counsel - a factor that advocates at the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center used to help uncover the scandal.
That's why a key reform warranted by the Luzerne scandal is a requirement that all juveniles facing the courts have legal representation. So far, though, state lawmakers incomprehensibly have balked at enacting this critical legal safeguard, which means that while justice might be done in Ciavarella's trial, there remains a real risk that another unscrupulous judge could railroad juvenile defendants.