Karen Heller: Candidate is poster child for halting Traffic Court

Posted: May 16, 2013

Perennial candidate Warren Bloom pulled the top ballot position for Philadelphia Traffic Court in Tuesday's primary.

Which is troubling because, six years ago, Willie Singletary was first on the ballot and, despite being spectacularly unsuited, won the job.

Bloom is the poster candidate for why voters are wretchedly served by this multicar crack-up of an institution. Nine former "judges" on this "court," including Singletary, were charged last fall with conspiracy and fraud for fixing tickets.

But you can't question why Bloom, 24 other Democrats, and two Republicans are running: The job pays $91,000 while requiring almost no qualifications whatsoever.

Most people, myself included, haven't a clue whom to vote for. There are so many candidates yet no professional organization to vet them, as the Philadelphia Bar Association does with Common Pleas and Municipal Court candidates. The whole process for selecting able Traffic Court judges is fuzzy.

Which, incidentally, is Bloom's actual nickname.

Bloom, 60, is no stranger to court, traffic or criminal. In 1992, he pleaded no contest to charges of indecent assault, simple assault, and corrupting a minor. The police report says he groped a minor whom Bloom described as "my wife's niece."

He pleaded guilty "because, at the time, I didn't know what 'no contest' was."

At the time, Bloom was 39.

"The whole situation got blown out of proportion. My in-laws and I were not the best of friends," Bloom told me. "I personally did not feel I was guilty. But I did not want to put this teenager, who was about 16, through any more emotional stress. I took the brunt of the burden of the guilt from that happening."

The records indicate the girl was 14, not 16.

Bloom told me "the individual and I had since reconciled," and also that the victim was now deceased.

Pleading guilty to indecent assault does not disqualify a candidate from Traffic Court. Nor does having your driver's license revoked, which also happened to Bloom, though he continued to drive. Two years ago, he was stopped for driving without a license. He is delinquent in paying taxes, owing $20,000 in business and real estate taxes.

However, Bloom does have a campaign slogan - "Bloom in the spring!" - and a rap, which he performed at multiple campaign stops: "I'm from the 'hood, I'll do you good."

He said that means "simply, I will be a good and forthright and sensitive, compassionate Traffic Court judge who will mete out justice and equity in a fair and honest way."

A minister and party photographer, Bloom wants to be a Traffic Court judge because "they are acting unfairly with their statute of no limitations on tickets, on how far they go back," he said. "I want a three-year limitation on most parking tickets."

Traffic Court does not handle parking tickets, only moving violations.

Bloom is not alone in this misconception. Lewis Harris Jr. - his slogan, "Mr. Lew will have our backs" - has campaign cards featuring towing boots and parking tickets.

Lucky Mr. Lew picked the second ballot position.

As you may recall, Singletary was elected in 2006 despite being caught on video soliciting donations at a biker rally, saying, "You're all going to need my hookup, right?" Perhaps his biggest preelection accomplishment was amassing $11,500 in traffic fines, which meant he had a suspended driver's license for much of the time he was on the bench. Last year, of course, Singletary resigned after showing cellphone images of his genitals to a court secretary.

Fortunately, the state legislature is considering a bill that would institute hearing officers, assigned by Municipal Court, for moving violations. There would no new Traffic Court judges.

"We don't want them to be elected on Election Day in November," said William Chadwick, the consultant who unearthed the Traffic Court follies. He is hopeful that the bill, which has considerable support in the state House and Senate, will become law by early fall at the latest. "The minute the governor signs it, the positions they're running for no longer exist."

Can't happen soon enough.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, Follow her at @kheller on Twitter. Read the metro columnists blog, Blinq, at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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