A two-tiered system in which the politically connected could get their traffic tickets fixed but the average person could not has been a well-kept secret in Philadelphia for generations, the administrative judge in charge of Traffic Court said in an interview last Wednesday.
But Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer, who was appointed last year to oversee the minor court in the wake of a federal investigation into ticket-fixing, said he is trying to change the internal culture after giving 12 ethics courses to court employees and not allowing political connections to be a factor in recent hiring decisions.
Glazer made his remarks in the wake of the release of the First Judicial District’s internal investigation conducted by consultant Chadwick Associates into the Traffic Court. The report found that both elected Traffic Court judges and senior judges who were assigned to the court “routinely entertained and acted upon extrajudicial, ex parte requests for favorable treatment of traffic violators from sources within the Traffic Court and sources external to its operations. The judges also made their own requests for favorable treatment from other Traffic Court judges and granted preferential treatment sua sponte in the absence of special requests to violators whose identities or whose connections they knew. … Numerous court employees at all levels of administration participated in this practice and treated the ability to influence the outcomes of traffic cases on behalf of themselves, their family members and their friends as a perquisite of their jobs or as a requirement of employment.”
The report also details changes such as programming the case management system so the authority of employees to continue cases is limited and that a “full scale compliance program consistent with the best practices of private industry is being developed to ensure the integrity of the court’s operations.”
The report also suggests 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 could be eliminated entirely and be transferred to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Philadelphians were deprived of the honest services of their Traffic Court judges as well as the revenue that would have been collected by violators otherwise, the report argued.
The allegations in the report weren’t limited to people working within the Traffic Court, but involved other judicial officials as well, including Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery.
According to the report, two Traffic Court administrators said in interviews with Chadwick Associates that they were in a meeting with William “Billy” Hird, a former director of courtroom operations who also was alleged to have fixed tickets, when Hird said he had received a cellphone text message from McCaffery asking Hird to meet with him. One of the administrators said he later learned that McCaffery’s wife, Lise Rapaport, had been found not guilty of a traffic violation that day, according to the report. The other court administrator, according to the report, told Chadwick Associates that Hird reported that he had escorted Rapaport into the building, “seen to it that she was ‘okay,’ and then ‘went outside and saw Seamus in the car.’ The administrator reported that Hird had told him on numerous occasions that he was close to Justice McCaffery, whom he referred to as ‘chief.’”
According to the report, McCaffery did an interview with Chadwick Associates in which he reported that he called Hird, who he knew from political campaigns, because he wanted to have Rapaport’s case assigned to an “out-of-county judge because it would be a conflict for a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge to hear Rapaport’s case. … Justice McCaffery said he did not know at the time that Hird was the key contact for politically connected individuals outside of Traffic Court seeking special consideration on motor vehicle cases.”
Hird met with McCaffery in McCaffery’s car until Rapaport returned from her hearing, according to the report’s iteration of McCaffery’s interview.
McCaffery did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The report does not mention that Hird was ever interviewed by Chadwick Associates.
Hird’s counsel, Gregory Pagano, said there was no exchange of money in what is alleged to have occurred and “I think it’s questionable as to whether it rises to the level of criminal conduct, assuming the allegations are true.”
Warren Hogeland, a senior magisterial district judge hailing from Bucks County, adjudicated Rapaport’s case, which involved driving the wrong way on a one-way section of Market Street in downtown Philadelphia, according to the report.
While Hogeland said he stopped the practice of giving special consideration in 2008, the report said “Judge Hogeland’s assertion that he ceased the practice three years prior to the federal raid is contradicted by substantial evidence.” Rapaport was acquitted July 16, 2010.
During an interview with Chadwick Associates, according to the report, Hogeland said when he was first appointed he was told by Bernice DeAngelis, then the administrative judge of Traffic Court, that “‘we do things a lot different in Philadelphia. Everything you’ve learned, throw out the window, because this is what we do down here,’” and that he ended up getting requests for special consideration from DeAngelis and four other judges.
Hogeland also adjudicated a case, according to the report, in which Chief Deputy Court Administrator Charles Mapp Sr. sought assistance from Deputy Court Administrator Bob DeEmilio in a Traffic Court case Mapp’s son was facing, and DeEmilio then communicated the request for special consideration to Hird. Mapp’s son was acquitted by Hogeland, as well as in two other Traffic Court cases, the report said.
DeAngelis acquitted Mapp’s son in one of those other two cases, according to the report.
When reached on his cellphone, Mapp said he had not yet seen the report.
Hogeland’s counsel, Craig Sopin, said that “Judge Hogeland did absolutely nothing wrong.”
The report also said Thomasine Tynes, a former Traffic Court judge, reversed a guilty verdict for Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph J. O’Neill after a hearing in which Tynes, according to a person interviewed by Chadwick Associates, asked “leading questions designed to elicit responses that would support a reversal.”
O’Neill could not be reached at his chambers last Wednesday. Attempts to reach Tynes also were unsuccessful.
The report has been circulated to all of the state Supreme Court justices.
Part of the City’s ‘DNA’
While Glazer said he hopes the internal culture would change in Traffic Court to stop the ticket-fixing, he does not know if the “external culture” will change.
But Glazer said that “I don’t think that you can ever really change such a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement that seems to be quite pervasive in the city [from politicians and others active in politics]. What we have been working on and what I think many of the folks at Traffic Court have come to understand is that we can’t respond to that sense of entitlement.”
Glazer further said that getting tickets fixed is “a part of the DNA of the city. It’s a part of the DNA of certain people in the city who think they are entitled to get special treatment.”
When Glazer was asked if he was basically trying to instill a “just say no” culture in court employees, he said that was basically the case.
There are 100 employees in Traffic Court, Glazer said, and there have been two or three new hires.
A committee of employees is making the hiring decisions, and political input is not part of the calculus, Glazer said.
“People are picked because the employees who are on the hiring committee feel they are the best person for the job,” Glazer said.
The judges who are named in the report by Chadwick Associates are Tynes, Michael Sullivan, DeAngelis, Robert Mulgrew, Michael Lowry, Willie Singletary, Christine Solomon and Hogeland. Only Sullivan, Solomon and Lowry are currently sitting on the court.
A total of four judges were interviewed as well as McCaffery and 42 court employees, according to the report.
Solomon’s counsel, Samuel C. Stretton, said Solomon has not committed any misconduct and she wasn’t on the bench until this year. Stretton is a columnist for The Legal.
Lowry’s counsel, Michael Schwartz, said that “as pointed out in this report, he has been fully cooperative with the court’s inquiry into the matter as well as cooperating with the federal investigators who are looking into this.”
DeAngelis and Hogeland are no longer being certified as senior judges, the report said.
Attempts to reach the other judges or their counsel were unsuccessful.
The Traffic Court is not a court of record, so proceedings are not transcribed and “records of evidence presented in court … are not reliably maintained,” the report said.
The written requests for special consideration — either names on index cards or on database printouts passed to judges or their “personals” — were also discarded, according to the report.
The report stated that “the system of conveying requests was partially centralized approximately four years ago when William Hird … began acting as a clearinghouse for many external consideration requests.”
Some employees, according to the report, said there was nothing wrong with specialized adjudication on tickets for the politically connected so long as money or no other consideration was exchanged. “Having secured their jobs through political connections, they felt obliged to help others who were politically connected or suffer employment repercussions, including termination, if they refused,” the report said.
One employee, according to the report, “even argued that the system was fair because every violator had access to preferential treatment if only the violator was savvy enough to ask his elected ward leader for help. The employee said that it was the violator’s own fault if he or she didn’t know enough to seek help from someone who was politically connected.”
The report said that court employees said that U.S. Congressman Robert Brady, D-Pa., City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell and state Senator Mike J. Stack, D-Philadelphia, regularly requested special consideration for people they knew.
None of the officials could be reached at their offices last Wednesday.
(For a copy of the report, click here.)