One of the suspended Philadelphia Traffic Court judges facing charges related to alleged ticket-fixing is arguing that his indictment should be dismissed because the alleged conduct is not a federal crime, only "compromising unethical judicial conduct."
Michael J. Sullivan’s counsel 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 possible fines are regulatory in nature, not property, Sullivan’s counsel argued.
Sullivan’s counsel are Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., Jessica M. Anthony and Terence M. Grugan of Ballard Spahr. Hockeimer declined comment.
"Instead of abiding by the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s limitations on the reach of the mail and wire fraud statutes, the government here proffers a theory that effectively seeks to criminalize judicial ethics violations and to usurp the authority of the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Legislature, and the Pennsylvania voters, all of which not only possess the power to address judicial misconduct generally, but also have and continue to wield that power in this specific case," Sullivan argued in defense papers.
The commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia can’t claim a property interest in fines or costs until after guilty adjudications were reached, Sullivan’s counsel argued.
Pennsylvania does not have a vested property right in its interests in collecting fines and costs that would be due for traffic infractions and in "the commonwealth’s ability to regulate safe drivers on its roadways through licensing suspensions and revocations," the defendant argued in court papers.
Not all of the possible adjudications of traffic citations result in the imposition of fines and costs, the defendant argued.
The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that a mail and wire fraud prosecution must seek to vindicate interests that have long been recognized as property and that mail and wire fraud must involve conduct intended to undermine a legal obligation to remit money to the government, Sullivan’s counsel argued.
Pennsylvania does not have a property interest in licensing suspensions and licensing revocations, Sullivan’s counsel argued.
Sullivan’s counsel also argued that it is significant that Sullivan was not charged with taking anything of value like bribes or kickbacks.
Sullivan, who took the bench in January 2006 and who was appointed administrative judge of the court April 27, 2011, has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, 18 counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud.
Federal prosecutors say that Sullivan allegedly fixed tickets on behalf of family, friends, customers of his tavern, a former politician and a Philadelphia ward leader, according to court papers.
One part of the indictment cites an alleged text message between Sullivan and "M.S." about M.S.’s brother "K.S."’s traffic case of disregarding two consecutive red signals and driving his car with fraudulent inspection and emissions certificates, the defense papers said. Sullivan allegedly said in his text that "’it’s all good he have to show.’" K.S. was adjudicated guilty of two of three violations, court papers said.
"To hold that this text message exchange, or any of the other factual allegations against Mr. Sullivan, somehow defrauded the city of ‘property in [its] hands’ would undermine the very nature of property and the limits imposed by court interpreting the mail and wire fraud statutes; indeed, such limits would be ignored, resulting in the criminalization of state judicial conduct rules governing ex parte communications," Sullivan’s counsel argued.
Sullivan also filed a motion seeking expedited briefing of the motion to dismiss the indictment.
U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is presiding over the case.
Denise S. Wolf and Anthony Wzorek of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania are prosecuting the case.
Three of the judges charged in the case have pled guilty. Five other judges also have charges pending.
The case involved over 20,000 court-authorized telephone intercepts, over 50 grand jury transcripts and hundreds of Traffic Court records, court papers said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.