Originally Published June 10, 2013
Federal law enforcement is investigating Philadelphia Municipal Court, multiple sources have confirmed to The Legal.
The exact nature of the investigation is unknown, but Municipal Court is the second court within the First Judicial District that has recently been looked into as a part of a federal investigation.
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille declined comment through a spokeswoman. Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment.
An investigation into alleged ticket-fixing within the Philadelphia Traffic Court has led to the federal indictment of Traffic Court judges, a court administrator and two businessmen.
Three of the judges have pled guilty and six others still face charges of conspiring to fix traffic tickets.
The three judges who pled guilty are H. Warren Hogeland, a senior magisterial district judge from Bucks County; Kenneth Miller, a senior magisterial district judge from Delaware County; and Fortunato Perri Sr., who took the bench in 1997, became a senior judge in 2007 and was the administrative judge appointed by the Supreme Court from 2000 to 2002.
Court documents show that Miller, but not Hogeland and Perri, has explicitly agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
Also charged in the case are Michael J. Sullivan, who has been a judge since 2006 and was appointed administrative judge by the Supreme Court in April 2011 before being replaced in that role at the end of 2011; Michael Lowry, who has been a judge since 2008; Robert Mulgrew, who took the bench in 2008 and is also facing charges for an alleged scheme to defraud the state Department of Community and Economic Development; former Judge Willie Singletary, who took the bench in 2008 and was judicially disciplined twice — once for showing photographs of his genitals on his cellphone to a contractor working at Traffic Court and once for suggesting to a motorcycle club that he would fix their tickets; retired Judge Thomasine Tynes, who took the bench in 1989 and stepped down last year; and Mark A. Bruno, a senior magisterial district judge from Chester County.
Also charged were the court’s former director of records, William Hird, and two local businessmen, Henry P. Alfano and Robert Moy. Alfano and Moy allegedly sought successfully to have tickets fixed.
The judges and court administrator “used their positions at Traffic Court to manipulate Traffic Court cases outside the judicial process, thereby achieving favorable outcomes on traffic citations for politically connected individuals, friends, family members, associates and others with influential positions,” according to the indictment. “This manipulation, or ‘ticket fixing,’ consisted of: one, dismissing tickets outright; two, finding the ticketholder not guilty after a ‘show’ hearing; three, adjudicating the ticket in a manner to reduce fines and avoid the assignment of points to a driver’s record; and, four, obtaining continuances of trial dates to ‘judge-shop,’ that is, find a Traffic Court judge who would accede to a request for preferential treatment.”
Lowry, Mulgrew and Tynes are charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury. Singletary and Hird are charged with lying to the FBI when asked about ticket-fixing.
In the wake of the federal investigation into the Traffic Court, the First Judicial District, under the imprimatur of Castille, its former Supreme Court liaison justice, hired consultancy Chadwick Associates to perform an internal investigation of the court. That report painted the court as having “two tracks of justice — one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public.”
Sullivan, joined by other judges, has a motion pending in federal court arguing that his indictment should be dismissed because the alleged conduct is not a federal crime, only “compromising unethical judicial conduct.” Sullivan argued that the crimes of mail and wire fraud require schemes to deprive victims of legally recognized, vested property rights and that no “actionable property interest is implicated until a guilty adjudication.”
The federal investigation and the Chadwick report also have led to efforts to reform Traffic Court legislatively.
Among other recommendations, the Chadwick report suggested that Traffic Court judges be licensed members of the bar, or that non-elected administrative officers should hear the majority of motor vehicle violations, as is done with parking tickets, or that the Traffic Court should be eliminated entirely and transferred to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
All three recommendations would be implemented in the legislation.
Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives have approved two pieces of legislation that would eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court in the wake of the ticket-fixing scandal.
One of the pieces of legislation has already cleared the Senate but must be approved by the Senate one last time because it was amended twice. The legislation is slated to be taken up this week.
The legislation would create a traffic division within Municipal Court, would create two new Municipal Court judges to adjudicate any Traffic Court cases involving jail sentencing and would provide that the one judge who is still sitting and has not been charged criminally would be phased out.
Another bill would eliminate constitutional authority for the Philadelphia Traffic Court if the measure passes again in 2014 and then is approved by Pennsylvania voters in 2015.