LUZERNE COUNTY -- Several convictions against disgraced former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella have been vacated by a federal judge, possibly clearing the way for a new trial on those counts.
When Ciavarella was sentenced in federal court for his role in the "kids for cash" case in 2011, his lawyers called the 28-year term a life sentence for the 61-year-old ex-judge.
A new trial could mean Ciavarella could have years taken off his sentence if found not guilty.
At his trial in February 2011, a jury convicted Ciavarella of 12 criminal counts. Three of the most serious convictions were for racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and money laundering, but a judge in Harrisburg vacated the convictions on those three counts.
The judge found Ciavarella's lawyers should have raised a statute of limitations defense claiming kickbacks were paid to Ciavarella more than five years before he was charged.
The judge also found fault with the judge's instructions to the jury.
The nine other convictions against Ciavarella still stand including mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and failing to pay taxes.
What remains unanswered is how many years could be knocked off Ciavarella's sentence if he is acquitted on these three felonies when he gets his new trial.
No date has been set.
Ciavarella is currently locked up at a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.
Ciavarella still has 20 years to serve on his initial sentence, and he was convicted of nine other crimes. But most of those were lesser crimes that carried sentences from six months to three years.
Ciavarella petitioned the court for a new trial last year.
Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 of fraud and money laundering in connection with the "Kids for Cash" scandal involving Luzerne County's juvenile detention center. The former judge claims his defense lawyers did not do their jobs and that prosecutors did not disclose important evidence in the case.
Former Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan took a plea deal and got a lesser sentence, but Ciavarella maintained his innocence right through the guilty verdict.