Traffic Court Ticket Fixing Investigation

On January 31, 2013, federal prosecutors charged two sitting and three former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges, as well a senior Traffic Court judge, three district judges, a Traffic Court administrator and two businessmen in connection with alleged ticket fixing and favoritism by the court's judges.

The indictment (pdf) names sitting Traffic Court judges Michael J. Sullivan and Michael Lowry; former judges Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary, and Thomasine Tynes; and Chester County magisterial district judge Mark A. Bruno. Federal prosecutors also charged by information Bucks County senior magisterial district judge H. Warren Hogeland (pdf), Delaware County senior district judge Kenneth Miller (pdf), and senior Traffic Court judge Fortunato Perri Sr. (pdf).

The charges follow a raid by the FBI in 2011 and a report on Philadelphia Traffic Court judges published in late 2012 that alleges widespread improper conduct by all Traffic Court judges and certain court staff.

As of June 2013, three former judges, Fortunato Perri Sr., H. Warren Hogeland, and Kenneth N. Miller, have plead guilty to several charges. See "The Federal Charges" below for more information.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS: It has been announced that the candidates who won the last Traffic Court primary election will file a brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The brief is reported to charge that the elimination of the Traffic Court amounts to a violation of the separation of powers.

Additionally, U.S. District Judge Robert Kelly denied the motion of five suspended Traffic Court judges to dismiss the mail and wire fraud charges levied against them. Click here for more information.

What happened?

On September 21, 2011, the FBI executed search warrants at various locations, including some of the homes, chambers, and offices of Traffic Court judges. The FBI is investigating allegations of misconduct related to ticket fixing at Traffic Court.

Following these searches, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of PA and the FBI served grand jury subpoenas on numerous Traffic Court employees and subpoenas duces tecum (subpoenas for evidence production) upon Traffic Court administrators.

The FBI investigated allegations against sitting and former Traffic Court judges that they used their offices to devise schemes to defraud, and gain money and property through fraudulent means, by manipulating the judicial processes of Traffic Court. This alleged manipulation includes dismissing tickets outright; holding "show" hearings before finding ticket-holders not guilty; adjudicating the ticket in a such a way that fines would be reduced and points on a driver's record avoided; and aiding "judge shopping" (i.e, finding a judge that would be most receptive to a request for preferential treatment) through the use of continuances of trial dates.

The progress of the FBI investigation was not made public until the unsealing of the indictment on January 31, 2013.

The Chadwick Report

In September 2011, in consultation with Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, the First Judicial District contracted with Chadwick Associates, a risk-management firm,to independently examine Traffic Court's operations. The investigators interviewed 42 court staff, four Traffic Court judges, and one Supreme Court justice, reviewed hundreds of case folders, studied applicable ethical standards for judges and court employees and analyzed case disposition data.

The report found "major integrity problems in the adjudication of cases, in particular, the longstanding practice of affording preferential treatment to motor vehicle code violators with connections to the court through family, friends and political networks." The report notes that preferential treatment often followed requests made for "special consideration," made extra-judicially and ex parte. In some cases, judges granted special treatment of their own accord when they knew the violator or the violator's personal connections.

The report names and examines the conduct of the five duly elected Traffic Court judges and the two senior Traffic Court judges.
  • Judge Tomasine Tynes - former Traffic Court President Judge; retired July 3, 2012
  • Judge Michael Sullivan - former Traffic Court Administrative Judge (replaced with Judge Gary Glazer December 19, 2011); currently sitting
  • Judge Michael Lowery - currently sitting
  • Judge Robert Mulgrew - suspended without pay September 18, 2012; indicted for grant fraud and tax evasion relating to his involvement with a South Philadelphia nonprofit.
  • Judge Willie Singletary - suspended without pay January 5, 2012, resigned February 27, 2012; engaged in sexual harassment of a female city contractor
  • Judge Bernice DeAngelis -senior judge*; last presided at Traffic Court April 20, 2012
  • Judge Warren Hogeland - senior judge*; last presided at Traffic Court August 10, 2012
  • The conduct of Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon, who assumed office in March 2012, is also examined.

* Senior judges are certified on a monthly basis by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Judge DeAngelis and Judge Hogeland are no longer being certified.

The Federal Charges

Charged in the Indictment:
  • Judge Michael J. Sullivan:
    • one count of conspiracy, 18 counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud
  • Judge Michael Lowry:
    • one count of conspiracy, nine counts of wire fraud and one count of perjury
  • Suspended Judge Robert Mulgrew:
    • one count of conspiracy, four counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud and one count of perjury
  • Suspended Judge Willie Singletary:
    • one count of conspiracy, 17 counts of wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements
  • Retired Judge Thomasine Tynes:
    • one count of conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and two counts of perjury
  • Chester County magisterial district judge Mark A. Bruno:
    • one count of conspiracy, one count of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud
  • William Hird, former court administrator and Director of Records:
    • one count of conspiracy, 11 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of making false statements
  • Henry P. Alfano, owner of a towing service that won a no-bid contract from the court:
    • one count of conspiracy, six counts of wire fraud and six counts of mail fraud
  • Robert Moy, businessman who marketed himself as someone able to "fix tickets:"
    • one count of conspiracy, 12 counts of wire fraud and seven counts of mail fraud
Charged separately by information:
  • Bucks County Senior Magisterial District Judge H. Warren Hogeland:
    • one count of conspiracy, one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting
      Plead guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud on 2/12/13
  • Delaware County Senior District Judge Kenneth Miller:
    • one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting
      Plead guilty to mail fraud on 2/12/13
  • Senior Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr.:
    • one count of conspiracy, two counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting
      Plead guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and mail fraud on 3/14/13
Neither Judge Bernice DeAngelis or Judge Christine Solomon were indicted. Solomon remains on the bench of Traffic Court and is still hearing cases.

What is being done?

New Leadership
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has appointed Judge Gary Glazer, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, to take over as Administrative Judge of the Traffic Court. Judge Glazer, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who investigated judicial corruption in Philadelphia, is overseeing a set of reforms with the objective of restoring integrity and professionalism to the Traffic Court. These reforms include new ethics guidelines and training, and the introduction of a requirement that court officers swear an oath of office administered by Judge Glazer. Procedural changes are also being implemented to increase transparency in court operations and identify suspicious behavior.

Further Reform
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is conducting research into the viability of a number of reforms, including anonymous and mandatory reporting of problems, with discipline imposed for noncompliance; requiring Traffic Court judges to be lawyers (whose licenses would be in jeopardy for this type of misconduct); tougher entrance exams; enhanced ethics training; merit selection or appointment of Traffic Court judges; and, if necessary, even replacing Traffic Court with an administrative agency. We are also studying other major jurisdictions to serve as models.

The Pileggi Plan
In early 2013, Pennsylvania state Senator Dominic Pileggi announced that he was developing a two bill proposal to the legislature to abolish the Court and transfer its authority to Municipal Court. One bill would change the state constitution, eliminating language related to the Traffic Court. The other would alter the Judicial Code to empower the Municipal Court to handle traffic violations. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Pileggi's plan five days after the federal indictment was unsealed.
  • SB 333: Proposing integrated amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, eliminating the Traffic Court of Philadelphia. A constitutional amendment must pass by majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly. It is then put to referendum, and appears on election ballots statewide at the next general election. Should the voters approve the amendment, it becomes part of the constitution.
  • SB 334: Amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for the makeup, jurisdiction and venue of the Philadelphia Municipal Court; restricting and eliminating the Traffic Court of Philadelphia; and making an editorial change. This bill transfers all of the duties of the Traffic Court to a new Traffic Division of the Municipal Court.
Both Philadelphia senators on the Judiciary Committee support Pileggi's plan.

On March 22, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Traffic Court, marking the beginning of their consideration of SB 333 and 334. The Committee heard testimony from Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts; Judge Gary Glazer, current Administrative Judge of the Traffic Court; Kathleen Wilkinson, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association; Ed McCann, First Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office; and Representatives Ronald G. Waters (D - Philadelphia/Delaware), Mark B. Cohen (D - Philadelphia), and W. Curtis Thomas (D - Philadelphia).The testimony is available here.

On May 14th, 2013, S.B. 333 and S.B. 334 were voted out of the House Judiciary Committee.

By June 3, 2013,  both the state House and Senate passed Senate Bill 333. Since it is a constitutional amendment, the bill must pass in both houses again in the next legislative session, which begins in 2014. The bill must then be approved by voters in a statewide referendum. The earliest this could happen is in 2015.

By June 11, 2013, the state House and Senate passed identical versions of SB 334. Governor Corbett signed the bill into law on June 19, 2013.

 

The Traffic Court now

Since Gov. Corbett signed SB 334 into law, all of the duties of the Traffic Court will be transferred to the new Traffic Division of the Municipal Court. This transition, however, will take some time. Thus, the Traffic Court is still hearing cases for the time being.

Judge Christine Solomon remains on the bench, and other judges have been brought in from surrounding jurisdictions to assist with the caseload.

Share your own ideas for meaningful change with policy makers, the media, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts at info@pmconline.org.

 

Trial Update

Trial began on May 21, 2014 for the six remaining defendants.

Trial Media Coverage

Other Media Coverage