Traffic Court must go

The oth­er shoe dropped at Phil­adelphia’s Traffic Court and to us it soun­ded more like a sneak­er hit­ting the car­pet than a com­bat boot hit­ting the floor.

To his great cred­it, U.S. At­tor­ney Zane Dav­id Memeger an­nounced charges last week against nine judges, a court ad­min­is­trat­or and two busi­ness­men who took part in what Memeger de­scribed as fre­quent and per­vas­ive tick­et fix­ing at the court.

Among those charged were two sit­ting judges, in­clud­ing one from North­east Phil­adelphia, Mike Lowry. Also charged was a former judge from North­east Philly, For­tu­nato Perri Sr., who ap­pears from the gov­ern­ment’s view to have played a pivotal role on the bench when it came to get­ting vi­ol­a­tions fixed.

All of the de­fend­ants face a raft of charges, and three of the judges, in­clud­ing Lowry, face per­jury charges. Think about that for a minute. Judges ac­cused of ly­ing to a grand jury. Doesn’t it make you want to hold your nose?

The charges fol­lowed a Septem­ber 2011 FBI raid of the judges’ homes, cham­bers and oth­er Traffic Court of­fices. They also came on the heels of an in­de­pend­ent re­port is­sued by Chad­wick As­so­ci­ates, a group hired by the state Su­preme Court. Both the in­dict­ment and the Chad­wick re­port de­scribed in scath­ing de­tail how the double sys­tem of justice worked. If you were a fam­ily or friend of someone at the court, or if you were polit­ic­ally con­nec­ted, you could get your tick­et fixed. Your mov­ing vi­ol­a­tion could be dis­missed al­to­geth­er or re­duced to a less­er vi­ol­a­tion. In some cases, vi­ol­at­ors didn’t even need to show up to be found not guilty. Such a deal!

Though we ap­plaud the U.S. At­tor­ney for bring­ing this in­dict­ment, we won­der why it didn’t go fur­ther. The in­dict­ment al­leges that Lowry “reg­u­larly ‘fixed’ and fa­cil­it­ated the ‘fix­ing’ of traffic tick­ets for fam­ily and loc­al politi­cians, in­clud­ing two Phil­adelphia ward lead­ers.” Who are those guys?

Is it against the law to fix a tick­et, but only mor­ally wrong to ask for that “spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion?”

The Chad­wick re­port says Traffic Court has been plagued by al­leg­a­tions of cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and polit­ic­al in­flu­ence since its cre­ation in 1938. Re­cently, spe­cially ap­poin­ted Judge Gary Glazer done has an ad­mir­able job of cre­at­ing real re­form there with eth­ics train­ing and hir­ing people based on mer­it. 

But what’s needed now is to start over and ad­opt struc­tur­al changes that will cre­ate a pro­fes­sion­al sys­tem of justice. We agree with state Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Domin­ic Pi­leggi, who says Traffic Court is not worth sav­ing. ••

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