Chester County Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno, who was swept up in the Traffic Court ticket-fixing scandal last month, is bringing a federal suit against the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bruno is seeking an injunction from the high court’s suspension of him without pay. Bruno argues that the move is a violation of his 14th Amendment rights.
Bruno has entered a plea of not guilty and “emphatically” denies guilt in the criminal proceedings, according to the complaint.
“The plaintiff, Judge Mark A. Bruno, is married and has a family with minor children and he was the main financial support of his family,” according to the complaint. “He has now been deprived of his ability to support his family without any due process of law or opportunity to be heard and deprived of his income and ability to properly pay his attorneys to defend these accusations.”
Bruno was suspended without pay February 1, when the state Supreme Court issued an order to that effect. About a dozen current and former Traffic Court judges were charged by federal prosecutors with being involved in a conspiracy to fix traffic tickets for the politically connected in Philadelphia. Three of them have made plea deals and Bruno is the first to file a suit.
Most recently, former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr. admitted in federal court to fixing traffic tickets for contacts who provided him seafood, videos, the installation of a patio and car repairs.
He pleaded guilty to four felony counts, including a count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of mail fraud. The deal does not involve a commitment to cooperate, Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise S. Wolf said.
Last month, H. Warren Hogeland and Kenneth Miller, both retired magisterial district judges who had been specially appointed to serve on the Traffic Court bench, like Bruno, each entered guilty pleas in federal court.
Hogeland pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and one count of mail fraud.
Miller pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud. Court documents show that Miller, but not Hogeland and Perri, has explicitly agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
Bruno is facing charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting, according to the complaint.
Bruno, who sat on the Traffic Court bench infrequently — once a year for four or five days, according to the complaint — noted that there have been no complaints about his conduct as a district judge in West Chester.
Regarding the order from the Supreme Court suspending him from the bench, Bruno said in his complaint that he “found out about the order from news reports since he was never served with any request by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or given any opportunity to respond since the court did not issue any rule to show cause.”
The justices of the Supreme Court, named individually, are depriving Bruno of his right to life, liberty and property without due process, he argued, since he is not earning an income from his elected position as a judge and hasn’t been able to get another job because of his “judicial position” and the pending indictment. Bruno’s family is now living on his wife’s income as a Catholic school teacher, according to the complaint.
That situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Bruno argues, since his criminal trial is “listed as a complex case due to the volume of discovery, the complex nature of the cases, the number of potential government witnesses, and the number of defendants,” according to the complaint.
The earliest trial date would be in November, but could easily wait until the new year, according to the complaint.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is hearing the case, has scheduled a conference for Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s really Constitutional Law 101,” said Samuel C. Stretton, who is representing Bruno.
Stretton filed a similar suit, and prevailed, about 25 years ago in Gershenfeld v. Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after a lawyer had been suspended from practice, he said.
The underlying allegations leading to suspension are irrelevant, Stretton said. What matters is that Bruno has been deprived of his salary as an elected official without a hearing.
Stretton is a columnist for The Legal.
As of press time, it was unclear who would be representing the Supreme Court and the justices.