Traffic Court's 'Judges' Are Upheld

Posted: July 30, 1991

They looked like judges, they sounded like judges, and they were sitting on the Traffic Court bench in black robes.

And so, on the basis of a legal principle known as the "de facto doctrine," the state Supreme Court and lawyers for its administrative office have decided to let stand Philadelphia traffic cases against almost 1,700 motorists.

The judges in question were retired, or "senior," judges, but they did not have legal authority from the Supreme Court when they heard the Traffic Court cases in May.

The decision to let the cases stand is in sharp contrast to the high court's actions in May, when the snafu came to light. At that time, the court ordered a rehearing for all defendants.

Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Papadakos slammed Traffic Court President Judge George Twardy, noting, "What Twardy has done is crazy if not

criminal."

Papadakos could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Twardy assigned the four senior judges to hear cases even though Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen had prohibited their assignment in late April for budget reasons.

Thomas Darr, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts, said yesterday that the basis for the decision was the "de facto doctrine."

"They were acting under the color and title of the law," Darr said. ''They were judicial in their actions, though they won't be paid." Senior judges normally earn $109 per day.

Gerald Walsh, Traffic Court administrator, said letters were sent to 697 defendants last Friday, telling them the cases remain unchanged and that they have 30 days to appeal to Common Pleas Court. Walsh said about 1,000 defendants had been acquitted.

The four senior judges who heard the cases are Dominick C. Spadaccino of Bucks County, Charles Nesbitt of Delaware County, and Philadelphians Charles Marotta and Edward Cox.

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