Pennsylvania’s Senate Judiciary Committee has approved two bills that would eliminate
the Philadelphia Traffic Court, the minor judiciary that was recently put in the spotlight after current and former judges found themselves the subject of federal indictments for their alleged involvement in a “ticket-fixing” scheme.
The office of state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, the Republican who serves as Senate Majority Leader, and who introduced the legislation to abolish Traffic Court, announced on Feb. 5 that the 14-member committee had unanimously approved two bills, one that would eliminate Philadelphia Traffic Court in the commonwealth’s constitution, and the other that would statutorily transfer the bench’s responsibilities to Philadelphia’s Municipal Court.
Pileggi, who has spearheaded the move to abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court, hailed the vote as a step in the right direction.
“Taxpayers deserve an honest and efficient court system,” Pileggi said in a statement. “Philadelphia Traffic Court has been plagued with sustained allegations of corruption and ticket-fixing over multiple decades. Last week’s indictments of nine current and former Traffic Court judges should be the final straw. It’s time to end this embarrassment.”
Under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia is the only county in the state, (the municipality is both a city and a county), that is allowed to have its own, separate traffic court.
The reason behind this does not appear to be readily known.
Pileggi had introduced his legislation to abolish Philadelphia’s Traffic Court weeks before the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania unsealed indictments and criminal informations against former and sitting members of the judiciary that charges the judges routinely dismissed traffic citations for relatives, friends and the politically connected.
The federal charges were a black eye for an already beleaguered bench, with one judge previously resigning after coming under scrutiny for supposedly showing cellphone images of his genitalia to a court staffer, and another judge being indicted in a separate federal case over an alleged tax evasion scheme.
The latter, Judge Robert Mulgrew, was also named in the latest indictments over the ticket-fixing scandal.
Pileggi’s legislation was introduced following the release of a report by a consulting team retained by the state Supreme Court to look into the very same allegations of corruption.
That report, compiled by attorney William Chadwick and his associates, concluded that Traffic Court has “two tracks of justice – one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public.”
Sen. Pileggi has said the Philadelphia Traffic Court has for years been tainted by scandals, and the time has simply come to get rid of the bench.
“There is no objective evidence that the continued existence of the Philadelphia Traffic Court would serve the public interest,” Pileggi had said in a statement at the time he unveiled his legislation back on Jan. 11.