Report: Philadelphia Traffic Court judges preserved rampant ticket-fixing

William G. Chadwick headed the state Supreme Court inquiry into Traffic Court.
William G. Chadwick headed the state Supreme Court inquiry into Traffic Court. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 28, 2012

In the first interview, the judge said she wasn't familiar with the term. Ticket-fixing just didn't ring a bell for Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon.

The second interview ended abruptly. Solomon announced she wasn't feeling well after her interrogators suggested her accounts were not credible.

She was a little more forthcoming the next time.

In her third interview with investigators from the state Supreme Court, she said she knew about the practice of granting "special consideration" at Traffic Court - and had even reached out to help people herself before she became a judge, during her 20 years as a Democratic ward leader in the Northeast.

Beyond those admissions, Solomon kept mum. She said she didn't want to incriminate others.

Acting as part investigator and part anthropologist, former city prosecutor William G. Chadwick, who headed the high court's inquiry, relentlessly pursued current or former Traffic Court judges to explore the cynical culture that pervaded the court.

Chadwick's resulting report portrays in great detail a group of judges who, eagerly or not, served as custodians of a long-corrupted system rather than upholders of the law.

In his report, obtained by The Inquirer last week, Chadwick focused on three active judges: Solomon, Michael Lowry, and Michael Sullivan.

Chadwick also put a spotlight on Judge Robert Mulgrew, currently under suspension following an unrelated federal indictment; Judge Thomasine Tynes, now retired; and two senior judges, Bernice DeAngelis and Warren Hogeland, who are no longer hearing cases pending the outcome of investigations of the court.

Former Judge Willie Singletary, who resigned in March amid his own scandal, was not questioned, though his actions were explored in the report.

Of the judges discussed in the report, most have either declined to comment or have been unavailable or unreachable. Many have been interviewed or subpoenaed in a parallel probe by the FBI.

For judge after judge, even those who refused to talk or admit any wrongdoing, Chadwick marshaled evidence that ticket-fixing was a routine part of the job, complete with its own bureaucracy.

As Lowry recalled in the report, the administrative judge at the time, DeAngelis, made that perfectly plain when he was sworn into office in 2008. "You have to do what you have to do, just be careful," he said DeAngelis told him.

With its 115 patronage employees, Traffic Court handles about 17,000 cases yearly, most involving citations for moving violations handed out by police.

It's a different agency from the 1,050-employee Philadelphia Parking Authority, where tickets are handled by hearing examiners at the city Bureau of Administrative Adjustment.

Chadwick's review included interviews with dozens of court criers and judges' "personals," as their key aides are called. His inquiry laid bare the rationalization long used to justify the ticket-fixing in Traffic Court and challenged the apparent misstatements made by the judges to minimize their conduct.

Lowry, for example, justified his behavior by saying that the underlying police cases were sometimes "weak." In some cases, Lowry emphasized, he did not kill the case but instead found the errant driver guilty of a lesser offense.

In any event, Lowry said, the issue of ticket-fixing had been "blown a little out of proportion, even though it's something we shouldn't have done."

Moreover, he claimed, he stopped tampering with cases after September 2011. This was the month the FBI raided the homes of two of his fellow judges and a top court administrator.

The federal grand jury investigation is the third criminal probe of Traffic Court since the 1980s.

Chadwick, selected to lead the high court's inquiry by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, dismantled Lowry's claim to have ended his ticket-fixing.

He quoted a court aide, Tanya Hilton, the personal for Singletary, as saying Lowry had kept peppering Singletary with "special consideration" requests even after the FBI raid.

That would be the former Judge Singletary who was suspended in January, then quit in March, after he was accused of showing a court aide a cellphone photograph of his genitals.

Before that, Singletary was officially reprimanded after he was captured on video seeking election contributions during an outdoor campaign event and saying, "You're all going to need my hookup, right?"

Singletary was not the only judge caught up in recent scandals. The other was Mulgrew, indicted this fall on charges of misusing state grants awarded to civic organizations in South Philadelphia.

In his interview with Chadwick's team, Mulgrew, once an official of the electrical workers' union, denied fixing tickets. In reality, the investigative report found, Mulgrew himself had appealed for special treatment on behalf of others.

Under questioning, Mulgrew acknowledged he had talked privately with Singletary about a case involving a nephew, Dennis Mulgrew.

He had an explanation, though: Mulgrew said he wanted Singletary to be on his toes and "not embarrass himself" in court, because the nephew was a law student.

Along with Lowry, Mulgrew and Solomon, the other judge to grant an interview with the court's investigators was Hogeland, a senior district judge in Bucks County who also served as a senior judge in Philadelphia Traffic Court.

Like Lowry, Hogeland said DeAngelis wasted no time in laying down the rules of the road when he began serving on the court in 2005.

"This is Philadelphia. We do things a lot different in Philadelphia," he said DeAngelis had advised him. "Everything you've learned, throw out the window, because this is what we do down here."

In his interview with Chadwick's group, Hogeland readily admitted fixing tickets. He also said he had fielded requests to fix tickets either directly or through aides from five other judges: DeAngelis, Singletary, Sullivan, Tynes, and retired Judge Fortunato Perri Sr.

In 2008, after three years on the job, Hogeland said, he decided to stop the special treatment. He said this prompted complaints from DeAngelis and Singletary, the latter telling him, "This is what we are supposed to do."

As with Lowry, Chadwick raised doubt about Hogeland's claim to have ended his ticket-fixing.

Hogeland's court crier, Maryann Trombetta, whom the report identified as someone who channeled special requests to him, said he had never told her of his reversal.

In fact, Hogeland finally admitted fixing the ticket given to a son of a Traffic Court employee in 2010 - two years after he said he had stopped granting such favors.

In perhaps the most startling section of the report, the inquiry explored the dismissal by Hogeland of a ticket given to the wife of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery for allegedly driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

The charge was dismissed, the report said, shortly after Justice McCaffery called a top Traffic Court administrator, William Hird.

The report said Hird, whose office and home were searched in the 2011 raids, served as a central contact for ticket-fixing. He would not talk to Chadwick's team.

Hogeland told Chadwick he could recall little of the case.

McCaffery has said that he knew nothing of Hird's alleged role in deep-sixing tickets.

He said he had called him only to request that an out-of-Philadelphia judge, such as Hogeland, handle the case. Such a judge would be less subject to complaints of favoritism, McCaffery said.

Hogeland told The Inquirer last week that he "had nothing to do with that case at all whatsoever" and said he had done nothing wrong.

At present the only judges still hearing cases are Lowry, Solomon, and Sullivan.

While Lowry talked in depth and Solomon spoke sparingly, Sullivan, a former Democratic ward leader in South Philadelphia, declined all comment.

In interviews with Chadwick, though, Sullivan's crier and personal implicated their boss in fixing tickets himself - and requesting other judges to do the same.


Read the full investigative report on Philadelphia Traffic Court at: www.philly.com/trafficcourt


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

Inquirer staff writers Bob Warner and Robert Moran contributed to this article.

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