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. ••