First defendant takes stand in ticket-fixing trial

Posted: July 16, 2014

A SUBURBAN DISTRICT court judge became a witness yesterday as he defended himself against allegations of corruption as the federal Philadelphia Traffic Court ticket-fixing trial spans into its third month.

The first of six judges on trial to testify, Chester County Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno painted himself as an outsider - separate from and alien to the chummy culture of backroom deals and hoodwinking that prosecutors say plagued the Philadelphia Traffic Court system.

Bruno spent much of yesterday answering questions from both sides about why he asked a retired Philadelphia Traffic Court president judge whether points would be applied to a friend's driver's license after the friend was ticketed for speeding over the Walt Whitman Bridge in 2010.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek pelted Bruno with questions, demanding that he "look this jury in the eye and tell them" what really happened with the ticket.

"Are there not rules in place to what a judge can and cannot do?" Wzorek asked.

"Yes," said Bruno.

"Is there any exception for a judge to ask another judge for favorable treatment?" Wzorek asked.

"Absolutely not. I did not ask for a fix . . . I know there will be a time when I could tell the truth of everything that happened and that time is now."

Bruno testified that he started out in law enforcement as a constable in Chester County and worked his way up to filling a vacancy left by a prior magisterial district judge in 1998, a position in which he served for 11 months. He eventually ran for that position and was supported unequivocally by the voters in his town.

Admitting, "I wasn't ready for it," Bruno said he took a "crash course in law school" and went to something called the "new judge's school." Soon after, he began to preside over all kinds of cases, from summary offenses like parking tickets to serious felonies like homicides.

Bruno said he was called up to help serve in Philadelphia Traffic Court about 10 years ago, when local judges would often have to go away for Continuing Legal Education, the mandatory refresher course judges and attorneys must take to maintain their licenses to practice law. Bruno testified that he never received any training or copies of the rules and regulations of Philadelphia Traffic Court, and that he felt "overwhelmed" when he first sat at the bench and saw anywhere from 80 to 100 people awaiting adjudication for traffic tickets.

"That was a real eye-opener," he said.

"Did you like it?" asked Wzorek.

"I guess, no . . . But I like to pitch in and help."

Bruno said he had presided over 4,000 to 7,000 Philadelphia Traffic Court cases since 2003, in addition to his Chester County cases.

Bruno and six other defendants, including a Chinatown businessman, face charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and perjury. The defense is expected to wrap up its case today before U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel.

On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

comments powered by Disqus