The only sitting Philadelphia Traffic Court judge who has not been charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to fix tickets testified Friday that she cooperated with an internal probe and that she was never involved in seeking favorable treatment about tickets as a ward leader.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause as to why Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon should not be suspended for 90 days because she allegedly did not cooperate with the consultants paid for by the First Judicial District to assess how ticket-fixing was happening. Chadwick Associates was retained on the matter in the wake of federal raids in the fall of 2011 at the court, judges' homes and judges' businesses.
The Supreme Court appointed Superior Court Senior Judge William H. Platt to serve as the Supreme Court's master to "gather necessary factual information and [to] consider pertinent legal questions." The hearing was held in Allentown, Lehigh County. Platt has set a final briefing schedule to close July 26.
Solomon testified under oath that she had been active in the 53rd Ward in lower Northeast Philadelphia as the elected ward leader starting in the 1990s. But Solomon said the real power was held by Tony Iannarelli, who was the ward leader until he gave it up because he obtained a civil service position.
Solomon said she used to deliver messages from Iannarelli to a former Traffic Court judge several years ago, but "if you knew Mr. Iannarelli, you didn't ask questions."
Solomon added later, "He asked me to do something, I did it. Stupid, maybe. But I did it."
In contrast, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer, administrative judge of the Traffic Court, Chadwick Associates principal William G. Chadwick and Jessica Davis, a former subconsultant with Chadwick Associates, all testified that they did not view Solomon as credible.
Chadwick was involved in two interviews with Solomon, Glazer was involved in one, and Davis was involved in three. Subconsultant Laura Linton, who was present for all three interviews, and conducted the interviews of all the employees with Davis, was not called to testify.
Chadwick Associates was engaged to ensure the integrity of the operation by interviewing all the Traffic Court employees and judges, Chadwick said.
The evidence against Solomon included that former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary's assistant said she had received a request for special consideration for Solomon's son, Davis said.
Solomon's son was acquitted in 80 percent of the traffic cases he had, Chadwick said.
Solomon testified that she and her husband are mostly estranged from her son and that she was in "awe" of the amount of traffic tickets he had.
According to testimony, Solomon said she had not interceded on behalf of her son and Solomon also said she had not interceded when delivering the messages from Iannarelli.
Solomon said she did go down to Traffic Court with close friends or neighbors and with her son once or twice but that she never made a special request of judges or their staff during those visits or before those visits.
"Her professed lack of knowledge would make no sense to any person of any intelligence," Glazer said.
During the first interview, Solomon said she was aware of people being able to use their connections to get jobs, not to fix tickets, Chadwick and Davis reported.
"I concluded she had lied to us," Chadwick testified. "I concluded she had not cooperated with us."
Later, Chadwick testified, "Lying to investigators is not cooperation. In law enforcement, that's called obstruction."
Solomon was given a chance to respond to the evidence developed against her, and the interviewers also wanted to learn from her about how ward leaders interacted with current judges on the Traffic Court, Chadwick and Davis said.
In the second interview, Glazer wanted to raise the issue with Solomon that a committeeman, at the suggestion of a ward leader, tried to contact Solomon about his ticket, all three testified.
Solomon said that Glazer would not tell her who it was that had tried to contact her and that when she decided to leave the second meeting because she was not feeling well that Glazer said, "'Take this as a threat or a promise. I'll get you.' That's exactly what that man said."
"The tone of the meeting was not threatening in any way. It was firm," said Davis, who then paused in her testimony before continuing: "Inquisitive."
In the third interview, Chadwick said that Solomon said she was not going to implicate others. Solomon said in her testimony that, while she did not have knowledge of wrongful activities by fellow Traffic Court judges, that she was friends with them from being involved in Democratic politics and that she did not want to implicate them because she thought the Chadwick team did not believe her even though she was telling the truth.
"No matter what I had to say, it was not going to come out the way I said on that piece of paper," Solomon said in reference to the copy of the memorandum of her interview prepared by Davis and Linton.
Solomon's attitude, Chadwick said, was representative of many in the Traffic Court orbit who "put their faith in the political party rather than the judicial branch of government."
While cross-examining Glazer, Solomon's counsel, Samuel C. Stretton, said he knows that the judge can be quite stern.
"I think I'm a pussycat," Glazer said, leading to laughs.
"I couldn't resist that question," Stretton said.
"I couldn't resist that answer," Glazer said.
Counsel for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts was A. Taylor Williams.
All the interviewees were advised that the evidence was not being shared with the FBI out of concern that would constitute compelled testimony by an employer, Chadwick said. The interviewees also were advised that their remarks were confidential and only would be shared in a report to the Supreme Court, Chadwick said.
The report was made public despite those assurances, which Stretton asked the AOPC's witnesses about several times. The report was given to ThePhiladelphia Inquirer first and then made available to the public in general on the FJD's website.
Glazer said he agreed with the decision to release the report, and that he was part of the decision-making to release it.
Stretton also pointed out on his cross-examination of Chadwick that a police liaison officer is posted to Traffic Court and that officer can exercise "mercy" to agree to plea-bargains that the judges can agree to accept.
"Traffic Court is often a mercy court because losing a … license is a pretty harsh penalty," Stretton said.
"You could say that of every prosecutor in America who shows mercy," Chadwick said in response.
Stretton is a columnist for The Legal.