Michael P. Buffer, The Citizens’ Voice
Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella is soliciting juvenile court services through a legal ad — something the judiciary didn’t do when obtaining juvenile services from Dr. Frank Vita, a psychologist and brother-in-law of Senior Judge Michael Conahan.
The county has paid Vita more than $850,000 for juvenile probation services since 2004, and his rate is $90 an hour. County Commissioners Maryanne Petrilla and Stephen A. Urban objected by saying the commissioners should have approved a contract with Vita, and they claimed the county’s purchasing policy required an advertised request for the services. The policy requires an advertised request for professional services that cost $7,500 or more.
Professional services are exempt from state-purchasing mandates on bidding and advertising, and Ciavarella has argued the judiciary only has to follow state law and is not bound by requirements and policies from the commissioners.
But Ciavarella did agree to advertise a request for the following juvenile court services: youth development activities program, forensic psychological testing and outreach prevention. Responses are due May 30.
Vita has been paid from the judicial budget line item that funds juvenile placement transfers, and the state has funded 80 percent of those costs through the county Children and Youth Services, an agency controlled by the commissioners.
Last month, the Children and Youth agency advertised a request for psychological counseling services, and the agency got three responses, including one from Vita, County Manager/Chief Clerk Doug Pape said. Vita has not responded to that request previously, but the state Department of Public Welfare is changing how it funds psychological services for children, Pape explained.
The state wants counties to start using the medical assistance program to fund psychological services for eligible children, officials said.
©The Citizens Voice 2008