Push to abolish Traffic Court worries some big-ticket contract-holders

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The company that owns the Traffic Court building, at 8th and Spring Garden streets, is only six years into a 17-year lease.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The company that owns the Traffic Court building, at 8th and Spring Garden streets, is only six years into a 17-year lease.
Posted: March 22, 2013

THE STATE House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Friday on two bills designed to wipe Philadelphia's Traffic Court from the face of the commonwealth.

There are plenty of people worried about that.

Some include the 41 people seeking three vacant seats on the court. Add to that the Traffic Court workforce of 114. That's a lot of patronage jobs at risk.

We also hear that Harrisburg is getting concerns from big-ticket Traffic Court contract-holders who want to know how the legislation will affect their business.

Metro Development Co., which owns the Traffic Court building at 8th and Spring Garden streets, is six years into a 17-year lease with the 1st Judicial District.

The annual rent: $965,000.

Xerox Business Services last year took over the contract to handle the computerized ticket-management system. That has paid an average of $145,709 per month in the last 10 months from fees assessed to defendants. The Xerox contract runs until 2019.

Metro Development founder Michael Grasso said he has concerns about changes to Traffic Court, since his lease says it can be broken only if the entire 1st Judicial District is defunded.

State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican and Senate majority leader, introduced two Traffic Court bills in February, after nine current or former court judges were charged with federal crimes in a massive ticket-fixing scheme.

The first bill eliminates the three vacant Traffic Court seats on the ballot this year. The second folds Traffic Court's duties into the city's Municipal Court if Pennsylvania voters approve a change to the state Constitution.

The Senate swiftly and unanimously approved the two bills, sending them to the state House.

Grasso said one possible outcome if they become law is that traffic-ticket cases will continue to be heard in his building, though under the name Municipal Court.

"We're innocent bystanders like everyone else in that court system," Grasso said. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I know what my lease says."

A Xerox spokesman, asked about the company's contract concerns, said, "It would be inappropriate to speculate what happens next until a decision is made" on the legislation.

The Union League boot

J. Conor Corcoran, a candidate for seats on Philadelphia's Municipal Court and Court of Common Pleas, read a Philadelphia magazine story in January about the Union League and felt a need to express some thoughts.

Corcoran, a Union League member, penned a letter to some fellow members and club officials about the story, which was headlined: "The Union League is Philly's Hottest New Gay Club."

The story detailed how some gay club members who regularly gather at the bar are engaged in a "semi-stealth effort to bring more gays into the club's ranks."

Corcoran, who jokes about his "leftist politics" standing out in the conservative club, suggested doing more to formally recognize the presence of gay members.

Writing primarily to the editor of a recent tome about the Union League's 150th anniversary, Corcoran used cheeky and snarky language to take issue with the book's claim that the club is modernizing its membership.

Corcoran said that showed a "peculiar, insecure sort of lubricious insincerity." He called his letter an invitation to a club conversation about gay members.

In response, Corcoran received an invitation to go pound sand.

Union League President Thomas Lynch, a retired Navy rear admiral, called Corcoran's letter "distasteful, offensive and quite boorish." In a letter, Lynch suggested that Corcoran should "resign now" from the club.

Lynch also referred Corcoran's letter to the club's house committee, which this month suspended him for one year after a unanimous vote by the board of directors.

Corcoran, who is required to pay his club dues while suspended, instead sent a letter of resignation Wednesday.

Club officials didn't respond to our requests for comment.

We wondered if Corcoran was using a dustup with the Union League to draw attention to his twin bids for a city judgeship. He says no, adding that publicity will likely have no impact on all that.

"I have to tell you that I didn't think they'd be this stupid or parochial or ham-fisted or generally bitter," Corcoran said. "All I did was write them a letter."

Quotable vs. Quotable

" I'm sure you can answer that question because at one time you were the chair. So let's not fool ourselves." - City Commission Chairman Anthony Clark, responding Wednesday to a question from Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who asked what authority he had to cut off her discussion on an issue during a public meeting.

" I'm the chair of this commission, and that gives me the undisputed right to run the meeting and to set the agenda." - Singer, at a February 2012 meeting, preventing Clark from speaking about an issue not listed on the agenda.

Singer was deposed as chairwoman in November by Clark and Commissioner Al Schmidt.


Email: brennac@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5973

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: philly.com/phillyclout

 

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