Report on Philly Traffic Court finds ticket-fixing rampant

ThomasineTynes
ThomasineTynes
Posted: November 22, 2012

An investigative report on Philadelphia Traffic Court portrays it as a place where ticket-fixing is rampant, with "two tracks of justice - one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public."

The report, commissioned by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, says Traffic Court staff identified the offices of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia, as a frequent "requestor" of such "special consideration" - an allegation that Brady denied.

It also details how a Traffic Court judge acquitted the wife of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery of driving the wrong way on a one-way street after McCaffery spoke with a top court administrator - who then met with the justice at McCaffery's car outside the Traffic Court building.

McCaffery told the inquiry that he had reached out to ask for an out-of-county judge to hear the case, not to fix the ticket. Federal investigators, who have been conducting a separate criminal probe of the Traffic Court for more than a year, have subpoenaed records dealing with the McCaffery-related ticket, the report said.

In addition to Brady, the report says Traffic Court employees had identified those frequently seeking to fix tickets as the offices of Democratic State Sen. Michael Stack, whose district covers Northeast Philadelphia, and City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, a Democrat from West Philadelphia.

Stack and Blackwell could not be reached for comment. Brady flatly rejected the report.

"I never asked for special favors. Never," he said in an interview, adding, "That report is wrong."

The report states that five elected judges and two senior judges who "sat regularly" before a series of FBI raids in September 2011 are being investigated by federal authorities.

They are retired Judge Bernice DeAngelis; retired Judge Warren Hogeland; Judge Michael Lowry; Judge Robert Mulgrew; former Judge Willie Singletary; Judge Michael Sullivan; and retired Judge Thomasine Tynes.

Traffic Court, which operates from a gray brick building at 800 Spring Garden St., handles about 170,000 cases yearly.

Its elected judges each earn $89,000 a year and supervise a patronage workforce of 115.

The 35-page Traffic Court report, obtained by The Inquirer, summarized the investigative work of consultant William G. Chadwick. His report noted that "no one inside Traffic Court alleged that money or anything else of value changed hands."

The study did note that "preferential treatment in a traffic case has substantial financial value." Traffic Court handles 170,000 cases a year.

After a series of FBI raids on Sept. 21, 2011, Castille quickly removed Sullivan as the top administrative judge, though he continues to hear cases. The chief justice placed Common Pleas Court Gary Glazer, a former federal prosecutor, in charge to implement reforms.

In an unrelated episode, Singletary quit the bench after he was accused of showing cellphone photograph of his genitals to a court secretary.

In September, the U.S. attorney charged Mulgrew with siphoning money from state grants to civic groups. Mulgrew was suspended, leaving the seven-member court with three serving judges.

People who worked at Traffic Court, including the judges or their relatives, routinely had tickets fixed, the report said.

While Traffic Court workers or family members had an acquittal rate of 84 percent, the public overall had an acquittal rate of just 26 percent, according to data analyzed by Chadwick's team.

In an interview with the team, Lowry said he had acted upon requests for special consideration - up until the FBI raids.

When Lowry was sworn into office in 2008, he said, then-Administrative Judge DeAngelis told him, "You have to do what you have to do - just be careful."

According to former Senior Judge Hogeland, DeAngelis also urged him to fix tickets.

"This is Philadelphia. We do things a lot different in Philadelphia," Hogeland, also certified as a district judge in Bucks County, said she told him.

After a short time on the bench, Hogeland said, he decided that fixing tickets was wrong and told DeAngelis he would desist.

"I want you to understand. This is Philadelphia," she said, rising and pounding a table, Hogeland recalled in the report. "This is the way we do things. I want you to get with the game plan."

Attempts by Chadwick's team to question DeAngelis were unsuccessful. She is no longer on the court.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Hogeland said: "I personally, in my mind, did not do anything wrong whatsoever."

It was Hogeland who in 2010 acquitted McCaffery's wife, attorney Lise Rapaport, the report said.

Court staff told the inquiry that on the day of the hearing, court administrator William Hird received a text message from Justice McCaffery asking Hird to meet him outside. Hird served as a bureaucratic "clearinghouse" for requests to fix tickets, the report said. He has quit his post and would not talk to the Chadwick team.

In an interview Tuesday, McCaffery said his only intent was to make sure that an out-of-county judge would hear his wife's case because a city judge might know she was his wife, even though her last name is different, and be put in a "bad position."

In retrospect, he said, it would have been better to hire a lawyer for her to contact court officials.

McCaffery said Hird had not sat in his car, but merely talked with him from the street.

Ticket-fixing seemed to ebb greatly after the FBI raids last year, but not everybody got the message.

According to the report, an unnamed ward leader called the court recently to seek special treatment. When told that instead his message had been sent to Judge Glazer, the specially appointed reformer, the ward leader replied: "How does that help me?"


Contact Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or cmccoy@phillynews.com.

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