Supreme Court schedules oral argument in case of indicted jurist; eyes resolution of wrangling with CJD

By Jon Campisi | Jul 15, 2013

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to reinstate the pay of suspended

Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno, a jurist who was caught up in the federal ticket-fixing scandal at the now-defunct Philadelphia Traffic Court.

In a per curiam order issued on July 11, the high court reinstated Bruno’s pay retroactive to Feb. 1, and listed the matter for oral argument during the Supreme Court’s September session in Philadelphia.

The justices ordered the court administrator to resume paying Bruno’s salary until the disciplinary issue is resolved.

The Bruno matter caused some judicial wrangling in recent months after the Court of Judicial Discipline accused the Supreme Court of overstepping its authority when the high court issued an interim suspension order against Bruno, a magisterial district judge from Chester County who occasionally heard Traffic Court cases in Philadelphia.

The minor court was just recently legislatively abolished after years of scandal, the latest black eye being the federal indictments filed against nine judges accusing them of conspiring in a massive ticket-fixing scandal in which traffic fines were supposedly dismissed for family, friends and the politically connected.

During the September argument session, the Supreme Court will address whether it has jurisdiction to enter orders of interim suspension of jurists, whether the Court of Judicial Discipline has exclusive jurisdiction to enter interim suspension orders, or whether the CJD’s jurisdiction is concurrent with that of the high court, and which order would reign supreme if both tribunals act, according to last week’s per curiam order.

The Supreme Court has also invited the Judicial Conduct Board, the panel that levies charges against judges for alleged wrongdoing, to participate in briefing and oral argument in the Bruno case.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Record reported on a May 24 CJD opinion in which President Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that the disciplinary court should handle the Bruno matter because the state constitution confers such authority to the CJD, not the Supreme Court.

On Feb. 1, the high court unilaterally suspended Bruno without pay, a decision essentially upheld by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody after Bruno filed a petition challenging the suspension.

While Brody didn’t technically affirm the state Supreme Court’s order suspending Bruno, she determined that the federal court had no jurisdiction, and thus sent the case back to the commonwealth’s judiciary.

In late May, the CJD basically overturned the Supreme Court’s order to suspend Bruno without pay since, as the CJD wrote, matters such as these fall under the exclusive authority of the disciplinary court, not the Supreme Court.

One of McGinley’s fellow jurists on the CJD, Judge Charles A. Clement, Jr., had written a concurring opinion in which he, too, argued that suspensions such as Bruno’s is left to the sole discretion of the disciplinary bench.

“I believe that the 1993 amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution make it clear that it is no longer necessary for the Supreme Court to enter interim orders of suspension … and that, therefore, it should not,” Clement wrote at the time.

Duties formerly handled by Traffic Court judges have since been transferred to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

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