Northeast Times

Big Fix

— At Traffic Court, it’s busi­ness as usu­al.

 One week after the re­lease of a scath­ing re­port on the op­er­a­tions of Traffic Court, Ad­min­is­trat­ive Judge Gary S. Glazer prom­ised that struc­tur­al re­forms are com­ing, but said it will take at least six months.

“This is a very com­plex or­gan­iz­a­tion,” he said. “Chan­ging the cul­ture and how they think will be very chal­len­ging. It’s de­veloped over time over many gen­er­a­tions.”

The FBI has been in­vest­ig­at­ing Traffic Court since at least Septem­ber 2011, when the bur­eau raided court of­fices and the homes of two judges and a high-rank­ing em­ploy­ee.

Pennsylvania Su­preme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille named Glazer, a Com­mon Pleas Court judge and former as­sist­ant U.S. at­tor­ney, to over­see the troubled court, which is based at Eighth and Spring Garden streets.

Castille, who lives in Rhawn­hurst, com­mis­sioned con­sult­ant Wil­li­am G. Chad­wick As­so­ci­ates Inc. to look in­to court op­er­a­tions. Chad­wick re­leased his 35-page re­port on Nov. 21.

The biggest find­ing was that judges found a high per­cent­age of Traffic Court em­ploy­ees and their fam­ily mem­bers not guilty. While 85 per­cent of those folks had their tick­ets for­giv­en, just 26 per­cent of the over­all pub­lic was ac­quit­ted from 2009-11.

“The re­port finds that the judges routinely made, ac­cep­ted and gran­ted third-party re­quests for pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for polit­ic­ally con­nec­ted in­di­vidu­als with cases in Traffic Court,” Chad­wick wrote. “In some cases, judges gran­ted pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to vi­ol­at­ors whose iden­tit­ies or con­nec­tions they knew even if no ex­press re­quest was made.”

• • •

Phil­adelphia voters elec­ted sev­en Traffic Court judges. At present, there are just three com­mis­sioned judges — Mike Lowry, a May­fair res­id­ent and former aide to state Rep. Mike McGee­han who will be up for re­ten­tion in 2013; Christine So­lomon, a Castor Gar­dens res­id­ent and former Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 53rd Ward; and Mike Sul­li­van, who was ous­ted as ad­min­is­trat­ive judge last Decem­ber in the wake of the FBI probe.

So­lomon and Sul­li­van re­fused to be in­ter­viewed by Chad­wick’s team. Lowry co­oper­ated with the re­view and ac­know­ledged grant­ing spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion in cases.

The oth­er four spots are va­cant. Seni­or Judge Ber­nice DeAn­gel­is left the court in April, and Judge Thomas­ine Tynes re­tired in Ju­ly. Judge Robert Mul­grew was sus­pen­ded without pay in Septem­ber in an un­re­lated mat­ter, and Judge Wil­lie Sing­let­ary resigned in March after he was ac­cused of show­ing ob­scene cell phone pho­to­graphs of his gen­it­als to a fe­male em­ploy­ee of the Phil­adelphia Park­ing Au­thor­ity.

In their ab­sence, cases are be­ing heard by ma­gis­teri­al dis­trict judges.

The re­port said it was evid­ent that sev­en judges who were sit­ting reg­u­larly at the time of the Sept. 21, 2011, raid are sub­jects or tar­gets of fed­er­al scru­tiny. They are Tynes, Sul­li­van, Lowry, Mul­grew, Sing­let­ary, DeAn­gel­is and Seni­or Judge War­ren Ho­ge­land, of Bucks County.

As for the Chad­wick re­port, Traffic Court judges and em­ploy­ees were in­ter­viewed. Out­siders were not con­tac­ted.

• • •

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, court em­ploy­ees iden­ti­fied the of­fices of state Sen. Mike Stack, City Coun­cil­wo­man Jan­nie Black­well and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady as “fre­quent re­questors of spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Stack did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment from the Times.

Brady said he re­calls vis­it­ing Traffic Court only twice, more than a dec­ade ago when Frank “Duke” Little was el­ev­ated to pres­id­ent judge, and in 2008 when he spoke at the swear­ing-in ce­re­mon­ies of Lowry and Mul­grew.

In an in­ter­view with the North­east Times on Fri­day, the con­gress­man ex­plained that his of­fice re­ceives about one call a month from some­body ask­ing for help to deal with a traffic tick­et. The staff dir­ects the caller to one of about a half-dozen law­yers who do pro bono work for the Demo­crat­ic City Com­mit­tee, which Brady heads.

“I give you an at­tor­ney. You go down with an at­tor­ney and are found guilty or not guilty,” he said. “Our of­fice doesn’t call a judge. We nev­er talk with a judge or any­body who works there.”

Lowry, who was un­avail­able for com­ment, told Chad­wick that all judges were ex­pec­ted to act upon re­quests for spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion.

“You have to do what you have to do, just be care­ful,” DeAn­gel­is, then the ad­min­is­trat­ive judge, told him.

Lowry re­ceived a couple of re­quests per month. Among those mak­ing re­quests, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, were Bill Dol­bow, Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 35th Ward; Mike McAleer, Demo­crat­ic lead­er of Ward 66-B; and Frank Con­away, former Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 57th Ward.

McAleer, an aide in Stack’s Park­wood of­fice, was un­avail­able for com­ment. Dol­bow de­clined to com­ment. Con­away poin­ted out that he re­tired as ward lead­er just a few months after Lowry took of­fice.

“I don’t know what they’re talk­ing about, hon­est,” Con­away said.

Lowry ac­know­ledged mak­ing a re­quest for spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion only once, for his neph­ew. However, his per­son­al as­sist­ant, Kev­in O’Don­nell, told Chad­wick that he had made “mul­tiple” re­quests on be­half of the judge. His ac­count was backed up by oth­er per­son­al as­sist­ants.

Lowry told in­vest­ig­at­ors that spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion has been “blown a little out of pro­por­tion even though it’s something we shouldn’t have done.”

• • •

In­vest­ig­at­ors also ques­tioned Su­preme Court Justice Seamus Mc­Caf­fery, who lives in Bustleton, over a case in­volving his wife, Lise Rapa­port. Ho­ge­land ac­quit­ted her on Ju­ly 16, 2010, on a charge of driv­ing the wrong way on a one-way street two months earli­er.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Mc­Caf­fery sent a text mes­sage to Billy Hird, who at the time was the court’s dir­ect­or of op­er­a­tions, on the day of the hear­ing. Hird es­cor­ted Rapa­port, who is a law­yer, in­to the build­ing, then went to see Mc­Caf­fery, who was in his car.

Mc­Caf­fery told in­vest­ig­at­ors that, be­cause of rain, there was poor vis­ib­il­ity on the night his wife re­ceived the tick­et, and that she mis­takenly turned the wrong way on the 1900 block of Mar­ket St. He wanted the case heard by an out-of-county judge be­cause it would be a con­flict for a Phil­adelphia judge to preside. He did not know that Hird was the key con­tact for polit­ic­ally con­nec­ted people seek­ing spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion.

Though So­lomon did not join the court un­til March, after the re­port’s re­view peri­od, she was in­ter­viewed three times by in­vest­ig­at­ors be­cause her son was ac­quit­ted on 29 of 38 cita­tions between 1998 and 2011.

So­lomon was gen­er­ally un­co­oper­at­ive, though she told in­vest­ig­at­ors that she had made re­quests for spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion while a ward lead­er.

“It’s just polit­ics. That’s all,” she told in­vest­ig­at­ors.

The re­port did not find that money changed hands, but noted the ac­quit­tals saved drivers money in fines, and kept them from pos­sible points and driver’s li­cense sus­pen­sions. It is un­clear how much money was lost due to so many ac­quit­tals.

“I can’t put a dol­lar fig­ure on it,” Glazer said.

Glazer ex­plained that Traffic Court brings in from $23 mil­lion to $24 mil­lion a year.

“The money is split by the state and city gov­ern­ments,” he said, adding that some of the rev­en­ue goes to the Park­ing Au­thor­ity, the court and a col­lec­tions com­pany.

The re­port lists three re­form op­tions: re­quir­ing Traffic Court judges to be law­yers; re­pla­cing judges with non-elec­ted ad­min­is­trat­ive hear­ing of­ficers; and elim­in­at­ing the court and trans­fer­ring its jur­is­dic­tion to Phil­adelphia Mu­ni­cip­al Court. 

The re­port said the con­duct it de­scribed was “neither isol­ated nor re­cent in ori­gin.” Traffic Court, it said, “has been plagued with al­leg­a­tions of cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and polit­ic­al in­flu­ence since its cre­ation in 1938.”

One judge, Ho­ge­land of Bucks County, de­cided in 2008 that he would no longer grant spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion, an­ger­ing Judge DeAn­gel­is. Ho­ge­land told in­vest­ig­at­ors DeAn­gel­is stood up, beat her hands on the table, and said, “I want you to un­der­stand. This is Phil­adelphia. This is the way we do things.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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