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Statement of Assistant United States Attorney William S. Houser at the sentencing in United States v. Michael Conahan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 23, 2011

      May it please the court.

     The government has made no motions for downward departure or requests for downward variances on behalf of Mr. Conahan. The facts of the case are well known to the court so my remarks will be brief.

     The government asks that Your Honor sentence Michael Conahan to a prison sentence appropriate for the serious crime he committed and for the relevant conduct for which he is accountable. We make this request on behalf of everyone harmed by his actions, including, the citizens of Luzerne County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, juveniles and their families who appeared in the Court of Common Pleas during the time the offense was ongoing, and victims of juvenile offenders whom the system utterly failed.

     This request for a sentence that appropriately reflects the seriousness of the crime is consistent with the United States Sentencing Commission Advisory Guidelines and with the sentencing factors Your Honor must consider under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a).

     As required by law, Your Honor has calculated Mr. Conahan’s advisory guidelines sentencing range. That sentencing range, although advisory, suggests a very substantial sentence.

     In addition to considering the advisory guidelines, the law requires that you exercise your sentencing discretion by considering the relevant factors under Title 18 United States Code, Section U.S.c. § 3553(a). The law makes clear that these statutory factors control regardless of whether the sentence they dictate varies from the sentence calculated under the advisory guidelines.

     Consideration of the factors listed under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) also weighs in favor of imposition of a significant prison sentence.

     Your Honor must consider the nature and circumstances of the offense.

     Mr. Conahan held one of the highest, most powerful and honored positions in our society, that of president judge. In exchange for the power and prestige of his office, he owed a duty to be fair and impartial and to act with no self-interest because the matters that came before him were matters of the utmost importance to the community and to the lives and fortunes of the parties who appeared before him.

     Mr. Conahan abused his power to enrich himself and his friend, Mark Ciavarella. Because so much trust and power was placed in him, his abuse of power had terrible consequences.

     As a result of the actions of Michael Conahan, Mark Ciavarella and others who have been charged in this case, the justice system in Pennsylvania was shaken to its very foundation. Many, many juveniles and their families were victimized. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was compelled to vacate thousands of juvenile adjudications. Countless hours and resources were expended by members of all three branches of Pennsylvania government and by the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice to study what Conahan and Ciavarella did and to recommend changes to the juvenile justice system to minimize the chance that the system could fail in such a catastrophic way in the future.

     So, when considering the nature and circumstances of the offense, it is fair to say that the criminal conduct in this case was of an extraordinarily serious nature.

     Your Honor must consider the history and characteristics of the defendant.

     The defense has highlighted a number of considerations that weigh in Mr. Conahan’s favor, including his family ties and his acceptance of responsibility for his actions. The government concurs that, in contrast to Mark Ciavarella, Mr. Conahan has accepted responsibility.

     Your Honor must consider the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, to provide just punishment for the offense and to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct.

    The serious offense committed by Mr. Conahan warrants a serious prison sentence. To afford adequate deterrence to others, the government asks the court to impose a prison sentence that sends a clear message that, when a person abuses one of the highest and most trusted positions in our society through criminal conduct for personal gain, he must pay a very dear price with many years of his life spent behind bars.

     Another factor Your Honor must consider is the need for the sentence imposed to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.

     In this case, Mark Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Based upon the law and upon the nature of the jointly undertaken activity, the government asks that you also sentence Michael Conahan to a lengthy prison sentence which nevertheless takes into account the fact that, unlike Ciavarella, Conahan did not put the community through the expense and emotional stress of a trial.

     In conclusion, the government asks that you sentence Mr. Conahan to a lengthy term in prison. It is our understanding that Mr. Conahan is agreeable to being remanded to prison today and the government asks that he in fact be imprisoned immediately.


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