Two Philadelphia Traffic Court judges and one magisterial district judge have been suspended by the state Supreme Court after they were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to alleged ticket-fixing.
Until their suspension, the judges had all been sitting members of the bench.
Judges Michael J. Sullivan, Mark A. Bruno and Michael Lowry were suspended without pay, according to the per curiam orders.
Bruno is a magisterial district judge from Chester County who also was appointed to sit in the Traffic Court.
The orders state they can seek relief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Counsel for Sullivan, Bruno and Lowry did not respond immediately to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
Nine former and current Traffic Court judges were charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to fix traffic tickets.
Among those indicted Thursday are 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; Lowry, who has been a judge since 2008; suspended Judge Robert Mulgrew, who took the bench in 2008 and is already 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 for showing photographs of his genitals on his camera phone to a contractor working at Traffic Court and 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; Bruno; 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 and became a senior judge in 2007, and was the administrative judge appointed by the Supreme Court from 2000 to 2002.
Pennsylvania’s prosecutor of judicial misconduct, Robert A. Graci of the Judicial Conduct Board, filed a petition Thursday afternoon in the Court of Judicial Discipline requesting the suspension of the judges pending the final disposition of their federal criminal charges. The petitions were for Sullivan, Lowry, Perri, Miller, Hogeland and Bruno.
Also charged was the court’s former director of records, William Hird, and two local businessmen, Henry P. Alfano and Robert Moy. Those last two defendants allegedly sought successfully to have tickets fixed.
Fifty separate citations were fixed, federal investigators said, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charges include 49 counts of wire fraud, 18 counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy, four counts of perjury and five counts of false statements to the FBI.
Lowry, Mulgrew and Tynes are charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury, and Singletary and Hird are charged with lying to the FBI when asked about ticket-fixing.
Three positions on Traffic Court are up for election this year.
The municipal government watchdog group Committee of Seventy suggested that the Philadelphia Bar Association “take responsibility for interviewing and rating all 2013 Traffic Court candidates,” and that both the Democratic and Republican city committees should agree only to support those candidates who receive positive ratings by the bar association.
In the wake of the federal investigation, the First Judicial District, under the imprimatur of its former Supreme Court liaison justice, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, 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.”
Castille was removed as liaison justice by the other justices a few weeks after the report was issued.
Then earlier this month, the Republican state Senate majority leader announced that he will introduce legislation that, if enacted, would abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court and transfer its caseload to Philadelphia Municipal Court.
The internal report suggested several potential structural reform options, including one that mirrors the proposal of state Senator Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, to eliminate the Traffic Court entirely and transfer its jurisdiction to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
“Scandals such as this, especially in combination with the fact that a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice [Joan Orie Melvin] is currently on trial for misusing taxpayer resources, undermine the public’s faith in our judiciary — and rightly so,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts in a statement. “Judges and their staff should be held to a higher standard of behavior, and defrauding the citizens of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania is inexcusable and unacceptable.”