The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a show-cause order Thursday asking the only commissioned Philadelphia Traffic Court judge not to have been indicted in a recent federal prosecution of alleged ticket-fixing to explain why she shouldn’t be suspended for failure to participate in the internal probe of the matter.

The Supreme Court is seeking to suspend Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon for 90 days without pay for her “refusal to cooperate with the court-ordered administrative review of the Traffic Court,” according to the order.

The order gives Solomon until April 29 to respond. Solomon was elected to the court in November 2011 and only began hearing cases in March 2012 because she initially failed her judicial examination.

Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, who was mentioned in the report conducted by Chadwick Associates as having gone to the Traffic Court and having spoken with an administrator on the same day his wife was to appear before the court for a traffic violation, dissented from the court’s order. He did not issue an opinion explaining his reasons for dissenting.

As to his mention in the report, McCaffery has said he spoke with a court administrator to seek an out-of-county judge to hear his wife’s case to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
William G. Chadwick of Chadwick Associates’ report came out in November 2012 and noted that Solomon did not talk extensively to his investigators.

Her attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, said at the time that Solomon did not commit any misconduct and that she only began serving on the court in 2012.

In January, federal prosecutors indicted nine current and former traffic court judges for their alleged roles in the ticket-fixing scheme. Prosecutors said the ticket-fixing involved giving special consideration to judges’ friends or other social acquaintances or to friends or social acquaintances of certain politicians.

Solomon was not charged. As of mid-March, three of the judges who were charged have pled guilty.

Judge Gary S. Glazer, who was brought in by the Supreme Court to oversee the Traffic Court in 2011, said he gave the order to Solomon but did not discuss the substance of it with her.

“We respect the Supreme Court process and are hopeful that this matter will be resolved in an appropriate” manner, Glazer said.

Stretton said in an interview Thursday that the two cases cited by the court in its order — In re Avellino and In re McFalls — deal with judges refusing assignment changes issued by their administrative judges. He said they don’t apply to Solomon’s situation. Stretton said he isn’t aware of exactly how the court feels Solomon did not cooperate, but he said he isn’t sure that she has an obligation to answer questions related to a criminal investigation.

“By doing it in this fashion, they sort of erode judicial independence,” Stretton said of the court’s order. “These are elected judges. They’re not hired hands.”

Stretton said judges have to comply with administrative orders from their supervising judges. Going beyond basic administration, however, gets into a murky area of what judges are expected to do or not do as part of their duties, he said.

Stretton is a columnist for The Legal.

According to the Chadwick Associates’ report, Solomon was one of three judges who did not cooperate with their internal review.

Chadwick Associates said it wanted to interview Solomon because her son, Matthew Solomon, had been acquitted 29 times in 38 traffic charges from 1998 to 2011, and because she had interacted with Traffic Court as a ward leader.

During the first two interviews, Christine Solomon denied having any knowledge that special consideration was given to the politically connected or other acquaintances of judges, the report said.

During the second interview, according to the report, Glazer attended the interview and told Solomon that her claim that she never requested special consideration was not credible “and that as a judicial officer she has a responsibility to be truthful and fully forthcoming.” Solomon asserted that she was not feeling well and declined to be interviewed that day.

During a third interview, according to the report, Solomon admitted having knowledge about such special consideration, including by sitting Traffic Court judges. But according to Chadwick Associates, Solomon then refused to provide any further information because she did not want to incriminate other people and because she was not a target of the federal investigation.

As recently as September 2012, a ward leader called Traffic Court and asked to be transferred to Solomon because he wanted to tell Solomon that a friend of his had a case listed before her the next day and to let her know that he would be coming down, according to the report.

According to the report, when the ward leader called back to make sure his message had been delivered to Solomon and was told that it instead had been transferred to Glazer, the ward leader asked: “How does that help me?”

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.

 

Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or aelliott-engel@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.