Closing arguments continue in Traffic Court trial

Posted: July 20, 2014

Lawyers for five former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges accused in a years-long ticket fixing conspiracy renewed their attacks Friday on the case against their clients, saying it was built upon "stupid assumptions, stupid guesses and stupid speculation."

That last line - courtesy of William McSwain, who represents Mark A. Bruno, a Chester County magistrate also charged in the case - came as the lawyer accused federal prosecutors and the FBI of interpreting even the judges' most innocent actions in a criminal light.

It was a common theme Friday in the second day of closing arguments in a trial on allegations that have reaffirmed Philadelphia's historic reputation as a city corrupt and contented.

Bruno and Judges Michael J. Sullivan, Michael Lowry, Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary and Thomasine Tynes stand charged with conspiracy and wire and mail fraud.

Prosecutors characterized Traffic Court as a judicial system plagued by cronyism that cost the city and state millions in unrealized fines.

Judges, they say, routinely passed requests for "consideration" between chambers - all seeking special treatment for family members, friends and political allies.

But Louis R. Busico, who represents Tynes, urged jurors Friday to consider similar examples from their own lives.

Is a shop clerk guilty of theft for giving a store discount to a friend?, he asked. Should a driver who passes a speed trap and flashes his lights in warning to oncoming drivers also be charged with fraud?

After all, said Busico, the driver's actions would also deprive the city and state of potential fine money.

To convict, jurors must find that the judges intended to defraud the state by dismissing citations.

"Did this 71-year-old woman intend to steal?" he asked, referring to Tynes. "Or did she just try to help people out?"

Underlying that argument were the statistics that the defense has turned to again and again to show that nearly everyone who challenged a ticket received some sort of break in Traffic Court.

Ward leaders, state representatives and council members may have asked for "consideration" on behalf of constituents - said William DeStefano, lawyer for Lowry - but the outcomes of their cases rarely differed from those of anyone else who showed up in court.

Prosecutors have flagged several "consideration" cases in which a judge dismissed a citation despite the ticketholder's never coming to court.

Still, DeStefano maintained, all anyone was asking for was for the judges to take an extra look.

"In an ideal world judges should give every ticket a good look," he said. "But you have judges doing repetitive activity on 100 to 200 cases a day - it's easy to let things fall through the cracks."

And that is how, said Angela Halim, the "bizarre system of consideration" began in Traffic Court decades before her client Robert Mulgrew or any of the codefendants arrived on the bench.

Though prosecutor Anthony Wzorek invoked such constitutional ideals as "equal justice under the law" during his closing statement Thursday, Halim maintained Friday that Traffic Court itself was an inherently flawed system.

Officers, as a rule, never show up to defend their tickets in court. As a result, those ticketed never have an opportunity to confront their accusers.

As for the judges themselves, she said, they are left to discern the state's case from whatever the original officer wrote on the ticket.

"Let's not kid ourselves, there's no equal protection at Philadelphia Traffic Court," she said. "Does Mr. Wzorek think police officers never make mistakes? They're human, too. They sometimes write bad tickets."

Wzorek will have his chance to respond next week, as the closing stage of the trial continues. Jurors could begin their deliberations as early as Monday.


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