Traffic Court verdict? It stinks

Michael Lowry
Michael Lowry
Posted: July 28, 2014

Time for another installment of Law & Order: Philly Ethics Division. (Queue "doink doink" sound of a cell door slamming.)

Last week, several recovering "judges" of Philadelphia's illustrious Traffic "Court," where ticket-fixing for the connected was not merely a given, but appears to have been a calling, were acquitted of the most serious charges.

Well, except for the lying business.

Like when former "Judge" Michael Lowry told the grand jury - please don't read this while drinking a beverage - that he "treated everybody in that courtroom the same."

The "court" treated friends and folks connected to the city's Democratic machine one way (in a single year, 3,195 tickets were tossed for defendants in absentia) and suckers like us another.

Or, as defense attorney William J. Brennan eloquently stated in his closing argument, "The system in Philadelphia may stink, but that's the way it is."

Words to live by.

These weren't parking tickets but citations issued for moving violations, motorists who potentially endangered the rest of us and were never penalized. Prosecutor Anthony Wzorek suggested that instead of "Equal Justice Under the Law," the pledge carved on the U.S. Supreme Court's marble facade, a more fitting credo for Traffic "Court" would be "Who do you know?" or "You're going to need a hookup."

Defense lawyers called the federal jury's decision to acquit former traffic judges of the most serious charges a "complete repudiation" of the prosecution's case.

Actually, the fact that Traffic Court was abolished in record time last year by the legislature and Gov. Corbett - who rarely agree or do anything quickly - is a complete repudiation of that complete repudiation.

State Chief Justice Ron Castille led the cleanup of the multivehicle crack-up of vehicular justice, with considerable assistance from an investigative report by William Chadwick and administrative oversight by Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer. Castille was less than pleased with the verdict.


"A federal jury's jaundiced view of Philadelphia being happy and contented, wallowing in corruption - but don't lie to the FBI or the grand jury," he told the Legal Intelligencer. "I have heard a lot of jury trials, and there are a lot of verdicts that make you scratch your head. I guess this is one of them."

Brennan, the defense attorney, argued, "Not one dime traded hands here, not a baseball ticket nor a glass of wine."

That can't be said of the court's former chief "judge," Fortunato Perri Sr., who pleaded guilty before the trial. He fixed tickets in exchange for porn and shellfish, a phrase I never tire of writing. (And, incidentally, a great name for a band.)

These "judges" seemed to believe there was nothing wrong with letting negligent drivers continue to drive without penalty, risking other people's safety and depriving the city of needed revenue.

Beneath the robes

The verdict perpetuates the perception that in our less-than-fair city, wallowing in corruption is no crime as long as there's no bribery. You can stink and walk.

Defense attorneys argued that the case was more suitable for the state's Judicial Conduct Board than for criminal court. But how would the judges know how to conduct themselves when the bar was so absurdly low? Most of the traffic judges were not lawyers. They were just people who knew the right people in the Democratic Party.

Willie Singletary, who resigned after showing cellphone images of his disrobed member to a cashier, wasn't even a decent driver. At one time, he owed more than $11,000 in fines for 55 traffic violations, including driving recklessly and without a license. His license was suspended in 2011, while he was still "adjudicating," because he had not paid his fines, a case of "Do as I rule, not as I drive."

Former Judge Thomasine Tynes, who was convicted of perjury, has acknowledged accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from a lobbyist in an aborted sting, the political and legal hot potato that was tossed by Attorney General Kathleen Kane and revived by District Attorney Seth Williams (two officials you don't want to invite to the same dinner party).

Fortunately for us suckers, Traffic "Court" is no more. The people who knew somebody, who had a hookup or a generous supply of porn and shellfish, may think this stinks, but that's the way it is.

215-854-2586 @kheller

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