Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Doing a big thing badly

Remember those juvenile defendants who were railroaded by the two corrupt judges? I previously wrote about it here and here.

Now, many of the affected juveniles may lose the ability to seek redress before they're even able to establish if they were affected. According to this story in the New York Times, the state Supreme Court ruled in May that the juvenile records of the kids who appeared before these judges should be destroyed. It's certainly not unusual to seal or expunge juvenile records, so this is just the most extreme way of making sure those records don't resurface.

But if the records are destroyed, there won't be any transcripts to show that defendants weren't informed of their rights to counsel. There won't be any documents to show they went unrepresented. Basically, all of the evidence these potential plaintiffs would need pursue lawsuits for the violation of their constitutional rights. Expunging the records won't undo the time they wrongly spent in juvenile detention. I'm sure a lot of these juveniles came out of their court experiences feeling like they had been screwed, but got very little sympathy for those views. Having proof could be invaluable for their own peace of mind as they grow into adulthood. The benefits to keeping these records around a little longer until the affected defendants can decide if they want to do something far outweigh the benefits to destroying the records and putting these matters to rest permanently.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended its order to protect the records of the roughly 400 former juvenile defendants who are now represented by counsel, but there are as many as 6,100 others whose records are set to be destroyed. It's not clear if those other 6000 defendants are even yet aware that their rights may have been violated.

The cynical part of me can't help but wonder if maybe the Pennsylvania court isn't a little too eager to destroy these files and the evidence so that they won't have to see the scope of the corruption that went on in their state. I understand the desire to protect those juveniles by making sure no one will ever see the records of their cases, but I hope the Court will amend its order again to give all the other potential plaintiffs a little more time to decide if they want to pursue a civil rights case. It's hardly protecting those kids by destroying the evidence that they were wronged.

I'm sure there are many in Pennsylvania who just want to come up with some final solution to this scandal so they can say it's all done. But I think it's really important that they take the time to lift off the covers and really look at what went on. Those who don't study and learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. So, come on, PA. Take the time to do this thing right.

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