Scuttlebutt, hearsay and innuendo have long suggested that Philadelphia Traffic Court might not be the model of blind justice, but the scope and extent of judicial improprieties that are detailed in the report conducted by Chadwick Associates, commissioned by the First Judicial District, is mind-boggling, even to jaded Philadelphians. We would be remiss as legal editorializers if we didn't weigh in with indignation and outrage, and a call for a quick and thorough cleaning of the house. But now that we have dispensed with the obvious, we wish to call attention to the fact that the problem may be far deeper and wider than just Traffic Court.
At least two leading members of the Philadelphia legal community one a lawyer and a judge on the state's highest court; the other a lawmaker and judge-maker have been implicated in this ticket-fixing mess.
Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, though not accused in the report of ticket-fixing, according to his own explanation apparently felt it appropriate at the time his wife's traffic dispute was being heard in Traffic Court to meet with a Traffic Court administrator immediately outside the Traffic Court building, to suggest recusal issues in his wife's pending case. He apparently did not consider the possibility that Traffic Court officials might infer other purposes for the visit.
And the Chadwick report alleges that workers in the office of U.S. Representative Bob Brady, D-Pa., among other elected officials, were "frequent requestors of special consideration" for unnamed persons. Brady has denied this to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Regardless of where the truth lies, the report puts these two leaders smack in the middle of an embarrassing, inexcusable system of corruption. In light of this, one would have hoped we would have heard from them some loud indignation and outrage about the alleged widespread ticket-fixing practices. But no. The only indignation and outrage we've heard, to date, has been about self-preservation.
Has McCaffery issued any kind of statement expressing his stern disapproval of the alleged practices; his insistence that the public must have complete faith in the honesty and neutrality of judges at all levels of the Unified Judicial System; or his appreciation for the thorough investigation performed at the behest of the chief justice? No. Instead, the only reports of McCaffery's reaction to the scandal, beyond the explanation of his conversation with the court administrator, concern (per "numerous close sources," according to the Inquirer) his outrage that the report paid for with public dollars and concerning a matter of grave public importance was released to the public.
Has Brady issued any kind of statement expressing his severe disappointment that many of the men and women whom he helped get elected to the court, or whom he helped get jobs at the court, have been accused of such indefensible conduct; his commitment to finding only persons of the highest integrity to serve on or to staff the bench; or his hope for a quick resolution of the accusations so that the grave damage to the integrity of the court itself can begin to be repaired? No. Other than his denial of involvement, the only report of Brady's reaction to the scandal is his statement to the Inquirer that he has consulted with a libel lawyer to determine what recourse might be had for the report's suggestion that he might have sullied his hands in this mess.
Ticket-fixing is inexcusable, no matter whether for money, friendship, or as an expression of political favoritism. It's painful even to have to write such a plain truth. But when the scandal's tentacles reach higher than "just" the lowly Traffic Court judges and their staff, and when the leaders to whom the public should look for leadership, or at least for high standards, can't bring themselves to criticize the system or the judges or the staff caught up in this mess, but instead can think only to criticize leaks or perceived libel, can we ever really expect to be rid of this corrosive cancer?
When a Supreme Court justice thinks little of meeting in his car with a court administrator to discuss his wife's pending case, and appears in press reports to be more concerned with damage control than the damage to the court; and when the politico who, as chairman of the Democratic City Committee, approves the endorsement that is the single most crucial factor in electing several of the judges accused of rampant corruption, can't bring himself to express some outrage at the conduct of the very people he trusted, and appears in press reports to be more concerned with shooting the messenger than with addressing the message, our judicial system suffers from far more than "just" a ticket-fixing scandal. And we fear that even a full-scale cleaning of the Traffic Court house will just alleviate the symptoms, but won't really touch at the core of the disease.
Jeremy D. Mishkin, Chairman
Albert S. Dandridge III
Michael J. Engle
Shira J. Goodman
Claudine Q. Homolash
Jeffrey P. Lewis
Raymond M. Williams
Alan L. Yatvin
The Editorial Board of The Legal Intelligencer is composed of members of the legal profession. They serve voluntarily and are independent of The Legal Intelligencer. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. Members of the legal community are invited to contribute signed op-ed pieces.