Philadelphia courts under fire in ticket-fixing probe

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Nov 15, 2011

The Philadelphia Traffic Court is a target of a federal grand jury probe of ticket-fixing, according to a report in the Legal Intelligencer.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille told the Intelligencer that “the FBI has taken computers from Traffic Court and just about everyone in Traffic Court is being called to appear before the grand jury.”

Castille said on Nov. 11 that a common pleas court judge may be appointed to run the court.

Federal authorities "found stacks of tickets ... I guess were in the process of being disposed of illegally," Castille said.

Castille also said that federal agents met with Traffic Court Administrative Judge Michael J. Sullivan, who was appointed by the Supreme Court April 27 to replace Bernice A. DeAngelis.

Campaign donations to judges  is an issue

Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew’s home was searched by federal investigators in August 2010, as previously reported by the Intelligencer. The paper also noted that Mulgrew raised nearly four times as much as his closest competitor in his first campaign in 2007. He raised a total of $255,985, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 being his largest single donor.

Sullivan also was the beneficiary of Local 98’s largesse. Local 98 contributed $70,000 to Sullivan's 2005 campaign for traffic court judge, according to, a website that tracks political expenditures,

Common Pleas judge criticized for case involving state representative

An article by Paul Davies in the blog of Philadelphia Magazine mentions the byzantine ways of Philadelphia’s courts. The article begins, “It’s hard enough to have much faith in Philadelphia’s political system these days. But when judges appear to pull punches, then all is lost. Consider the actions of judges in three high-profile cases.”

One that he mentions is that of a DUI involving State Representative Cherelle Parker, a Democrat from the Northwest section of Philadelphia. Evidence in her case was ruled inadmissible by Municipal Court Judge Charles Hayden.

According to Davies, “Hayden presided over Parker’s non-jury trial in which prosecutors presented the following evidence: She was pulled over after midnight in April when police spotted her car traveling the wrong way down a one-way street in Germantown. The officers said Parker’s eyes were glassy, she smelled of alcohol, was unsteady on her feet, and her speech was slowed.”

The account continues, “One officer testified that Parker told him she drank two chocolate martinis and two beers. A Breathalyzer test found her blood-alcohol level was .16, or twice the legal limit.”

Representative Parker denied the charges. She claimed she only had one martini. Judge Hayden found Parker more credible and said the testimony of one of the officers “less than truthful.”

Philadelphia Magazine points out that Parker was a top aide to City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, who is part of the Northwest Alliance, a coalition of city Democrats led by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and State Rep. Dwight Evans. Fattah’s chief counsel was Hayden.

The Nov. 8 edition of a local neighborhood newspaper, the Mt. Airy, noted that Hayden and Parker are friends on Facebook.

The Philadelphia CBS –TV affiliate, CBS3, wrote in its Nov. 8 website, “Just because two people are linked on the site does not mean an actual connection. However, that may not be the case when it comes to judges.”

The story then quoted a Villanova University School of Law professor, Michael Risch, who said, “A Facebook friendship could have the appearance of impropriety, even if there’s nothing untoward going on or even if people barely know each other.”

How does one define “an appearance of impropriety” in a Philadelphia courtroom? State Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo, whom Davies quoted in his article, summed it up.

When told about Hayden’s dismissal of the evidence, Costanzo, a Philadelphian, said, “I understand how things go around here.”

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