Jon Campisi Jan. 14, 2013, 6:46am
A state senator from southeastern Pennsylvania has announced he will be introducing
legislation to abolish the much-beleaguered Philadelphia Traffic Court, which has seen more of its share of scandals.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican representing the 9th Senatorial District, said in a statement issued by his office Jan. 11 that he will soon be pushing for the elimination of the Philadelphia Traffic Court, the only court of its kind in the commonwealth.
“There is no objective evidence that the continued existence of the Philadelphia Traffic Court would serve the public interest,” Pileggi said in a statement. “No other county has a separate Traffic Court, and whatever reason may have existed in the past for Philadelphia to have a separate Traffic Court no longer exists.”
The announcement comes soon after the state Supreme Court released an investigative report that was created by attorney William Chadwick and his team from Chadwick Associates Inc. at the behest of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille that painted the Philadelphia Traffic Court as a bastion of patronage where those who are politically connected could get out of traffic tickets while average citizens would not be afforded the same latitude.
The 35-page report had concluded that Traffic Court judges “routinely made, accepted and granted third-party requests for preferential treatment for politically connected individuals.”
The report was a black eye for the Philadelphia Traffic Court, which has also been the subject of an unrelated FBI criminal investigation, the details of which remain scarce, and faced a scandal involving a former Traffic Court judge who was removed from the bench after he was accused of showing cellphone photos of his genitals to a female court staffer.
That former judge, Willie Singletary, was subsequently reprimanded by the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, which determined Singletary’s actions brought the court into disrepute.
“The lack of integrity at Philadelphia Traffic Court has been demonstrated time after time,” Pileggi said in his statement. “In 1997, the court was described as ‘Philadelphia’s judicial backwater’ and ‘a safe place to stash party hacks, generate patronage jobs and fix tickets or throw out cases to earn favors.’ In 1991, thousands of cases were heard by unauthorized judges. Experience proves that in order to clean up this court, we must eliminate it.”
Pileggi’s office announced that the senator will be releasing a two-bill package to abolish the court.
One bill will be to amend the commonwealth’s constitution to allow for the elimination of the Philadelphia Traffic Court, and the other will transfer the responsibilities of the Traffic Court to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
The Traffic Court, Municipal Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas comprise the First Judicial District, Philadelphia’s court system.
The senator’s office said that the second bill will be drafted so that its provisions can take effect whether or not the constitutional amendment is finally approved.
The judges who are elected to, and serve on, the Philadelphia Traffic Court are not required to be attorneys and do not have to have any legal background.
The judges earn more than $90,000 per year.
The Chadwick report on the problems with the Philadelphia Traffic Court included as one of its suggestions on reforming the bench eliminating the Traffic Court in its entirety and transferring its duties to Philadelphia’s Municipal Court.
The report stated that between 2002 and 2004, the jurisdiction of the Pittsburgh Magistrates Court was transferred to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
“A similar process could be employed to transfer the jurisdiction of the Traffic Court to the Philadelphia Municipal Court,” Chadwick’s report stated. “Because Philadelphia Municipal Court judges are required by the Constitution to be attorneys, this option would accomplish the objectives of the first option above.”
The first option referenced in the report was a suggestion alternative to elimination that would instead require Philadelphia Traffic Court judges to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Under that suggestion, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would also have to be amended to require the Traffic Court judges to be licensed attorneys, something that, Chadwick’s report stated, could “enhance the professionalism of the bench by bringing greater legal expertise and a sensitivity to ethics and compliance issues, and creating the risk that misconduct could lead to disbarment and the consequential loss of the ability to practice law.”