Pity the poor soul who is not politically connected or doesn’t have a cousin who works at Phildelphia’s Traffic Court. If he’s stopped by a cop for a moving violation, he has two choices. He can take a half-day off of work and fight the ticket or he can send in his fine.
But if he’s “connected,” he has a very good chance of getting his ticket thrown out, or his violation reduced. In some cases, he might be found not guilty without even having to show up in court.
This “two-track system” of justice is described in scathing detail in the interim Chadwick report released publicly on Nov. 19. It’s based on interviews with court employees and Traffic Court judges. One employee even argued that the system was fair because every violator had access to preferential treatment if only he was “savvy enough to ask his elected ward leaders for help.”
Thankfully, an FBI raid in September 2011 and this report have blown the whistle on this nefarious activity.
What has gone on at Traffic Court is patently unfair to people who try to do the right thing by owning up to their misconduct on the road. It is wrong because it demeans the work of patrol officers who issue tickets because they are trying to keep the streets safe. And, it is wrong because it denies the city and state thousands — if not millions — of dollars.
Judges who are sworn into office in Traffic Court swear they will uphold the law and discharge their duties “with fidelity.” What part of faithfulness did they think applied only some of the time?
Judge Gary S. Glazer, who has been appointed to clean up this mess, has a good bead on where we need to end up. “We are trying to make a system of justice that’s fair for everybody,” he said.
That seems to be Job 1 for every court in the land. It’s time for significant structural change to Traffic Court or the system of secret requests will return as soon as the spotlight is turned off.
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