Case against Traffic Court judges in hands of the jury

Philadelphia Traffic Court at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets was in session Thursday, but some of the judges hearing cases were from out of town.
Philadelphia Traffic Court at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets was in session Thursday, but some of the judges hearing cases were from out of town. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 22, 2014

The fate of five former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges accused in a ticket-fixing conspiracy now lies in the hands of a federal jury.

The panel began deliberating the case against Michael J. Sullivan, Michael Lowry, Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary, and Thomasine Tynes just after 3 p.m. Monday and broke for the day after less than two hours of discussion.

The deliberations came after a morning when prosecutors took one last opportunity to respond to two days of defense arguments attempting to tear down their case.

"We make no apology for the investigation in this case - none whatsoever," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said. "What was the FBI supposed to do when they discovered ticket fixing in Philadelphia Traffic Court? Turn a blind eye?"

Throughout the two-month trial, Wzorek and cocounsel Denise Wolf have characterized Traffic Court as a judicial system plagued by cronyism that cost the city and state millions in unrealized fines.

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

"This is not a case about just traffic tickets," said Wzorek, brushing aside defense criticism that the U.S. expended untold resources to investigate minor infractions. "This is a case about the corruption of almost an entire court in Philadelphia."

The defendants are charged with conspiracy and wire and mail fraud.

Lawyers for the former judges contend that what the government calls "consideration" was actually judicial discretion.

While their clients may have participated in unethical discussions with people who had been ticketed outside of court or failed to recuse themselves from cases involving family members, they say, they decided each of the more than 50 tickets that make up the prosecution's case on their merits.

Paul J. Hetznecker, a lawyer representing a Chinatown court translator charged alongside the judges, said Monday that his client, Robert Moy, did nothing except ask judges to look favorably on his client's cases - something lawyers do every day.

The difference, prosecutors say, is that lawyers advocate in open court; Moy sent lists of client names directly to Tynes, whom he referred to as "Mom."

Nearly all of the cases singled out by the government that Moy handled ended in acquittals.

"How do you twist a request for help into an agreement - a conspiracy?" Hetznecker asked jurors during his closing arguments Monday. "All he was doing was trying to help a community that is disenfranchised."

Jurors are expected to resume their deliberations Tuesday morning.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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