Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has denied a petition by the
Judicial Conduct Board to suspend indicted Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Michael Lowry without pay, ordering that the minor bench jurist receives his salary while serving out his punishment.
In an Oct. 25 order signed by President Judge Bernard McGinley, the CJD ruled that Lowry, who is facing charges in connection with a federal ticket-fixing probe, be suspended with pay until further notice.
The ruling is retroactive to Feb. 1 of this year, and orders that Lowry immediately receive any pay that has been withheld from him since that time.
Lowry faces felony charges in connection with a federal indictment in which he and eight other current and former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges are accused of fixing motor vehicle citations for relatives, friends and political acquaintances.
The defendants stand accused of conspiring to defraud the commonwealth and the City of Philadelphia of fines and costs by engaging in a “ticket fixing” scheme over a years-long period.
The state Supreme Court entered interim orders of suspension against the judges on Feb. 1, with one of the indicted members of the bench, Mark Bruno, being ordered to serve out his suspension with pay.
Bruno, a magisterial district judge from Chester County who was occasionally assigned to hear cases in Philadelphia, was informed he would still be receiving a paycheck during his suspension.
By contrast, another jurist, Michael Sullivan, who served as the administrative judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court, learned he would not be paid during his suspension, which was also related to the ticket-fixing scandal.
In its decision to suspend Lowry with pay, the CJD pointed to the three-year investigation into the activities of Traffic Court, and the fact that during that time, federal investigators were only able to identify five cases in which they believed they had uncovered facts relating to the conduct of Lowry, which, if proved at trial, would establish “any conduct of a criminal nature, specifically, here, the federal crime of wire fraud.”
“This court recognizes that prudent selectivity can be a virtue and, if that were the modus operandi of the federal investigators in this case, this court would expect that the five cases that ‘made the cut’ would constitute conspicuously flagrant violations of the law and be easily and surely establishable as such,” the CJD wrote. “Instead, we find the opposite.”
The disciplinary court determined that a close examination of the indictment “makes manifest the thorough failure of the Indictment to charge this Respondent with conspiracy and wire fraud.”
Similar to Bruno’s situation, the CJD wrote, in only a handful of cases does the indictment allege that Lowry was the judge who adjudicated the cases, and in those small number of cases, that is the “only connection which this Respondent is alleged to have had with the supposed criminality charged” in those cases.
This was exactly the situation in one of the cases involving Bruno, the CJD wrote, in which that jurist was charged with participating in “the fix” by his adjudication of the case.
“Likewise, there is no allegation in this Indictment that anyone spoke to Lowry about these four citations nor any allegation that he was asked by anyone to enter an adjudication of not guilty irrespective of the facts of the case,” the ruling states.
The disciplinary judges also noted that Lowry never participated in any interstate phone calls in connection with the ticket-fixing scheme, which would be the basis for the federal wire fraud charges, and that any wire communication didn’t occur until after a case’s adjudication, meaning it was not in furtherance of the scheme.
In conclusion, the CJD wrote that it believes a review of the indictment “creates a serious uncertainty that [Lowry] will be convicted of any of the charges,” and that while Lowry's continuing to hear traffic cases could harm the public confidence in the judiciary, and interim suspension is called for, there’s no need to withhold the defendant’s pay.
Others who were indicted in connection with the ticket-fixing scandal included former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, a controversial figure who landed himself into trouble after a female court staffer’s allegations that he showed her cellphone images of his genitalia; H. Warren Hogeland, a local judge from Bucks County who occasionally heard Philadelphia cases, (Hogeland has since passed away); and Robert Mulgrew, a suspended judge who this fall pleaded guilty in connection with an unrelated federal case alleging he schemed to defraud the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Following the ticket-fixing scandal, the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted to abolish Philadelphia Traffic Court, the only one of its kind in the commonwealth.