The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline ruled Friday that one of the suspended Philadelphia Traffic Court judges facing federal charges for alleged ticket-fixing should be suspended without pay.
Michael Sullivan had argued that his suspension should be with pay considering that the court has said that another suspended judge, Mark Bruno, should be suspended with pay.
But President Judge Bernard L. McGinley said there were differences in the level in which Bruno and Sullivan were allegedly involved in ticket-fixing.
According to the court's opinion, Bruno was a magisterial district judge from another county appointed to sit in the Traffic Court, while Sullivan was more intimately involved in the ticket-fixing problems in Traffic Court because he was appointed as the administrative judge in 2011 and he was a five-year elected veteran of the court.
"The conduct alleged in the indictment is inherently disdainful of the laws he was elected to enforce, contemptuous of the law in general, took place over and over again, and became a way of life," McGinley said. "And the law became a laughingstock. Only an order of interim suspension which removes this respondent from the public payroll has any prospect of ameliorating the potential harm to the public's confidence in the judicial system which has been caused by respondent's alleged conduct."
The Judicial Conduct Board, the prosecutorial body in the judicial conduct system, had petitioned for an interim order suspending Sullivan without pay.
The court also agreed with the JCB that the facts in Sullivan's case are closer to the judicial discipline case of former Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted in state court of using public resources on public campaigns, for, as the JCB terms it, "'an abject disregard for their responsibility to respect and comply with the law.'"
Further, the federal indictment does not allege that Bruno placed or caused to be placed anything in the mail or made interstate wire communications like phone calls to further the ticket-fixing scheme, McGinley said.
In contrast to Bruno, "Sullivan owned the Fireside Tavern, a bar located at 2701 Marshall Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania," McGinley said. "The indictment further alleges that Sullivan used his position to 'fix' traffic citations on behalf of family, friends, Fireside Tavern customers, a former politician, and a Philadelphia ward leader. In facilitating this preferential treatment, Sullivan directed individuals to leave their traffic citations or related documents at the Fireside Tavern for him, where employees of the Fireside Tavern placed the traffic court document in a box behind the bar."
The indictment also contains allegations that Sullivan participated in interstate wire communications to further the ticket-fixing scheme, which is unlike the indictment of Bruno, McGinley said.
The Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments next month in the Bruno case on whether it has the authority to suspend judges or if that is a power left solely to the Court of Judicial Discipline.
When granting oral argument in the Bruno case, the Supreme Court reinstated Bruno's pay retroactive to February 1, the date it suspended him and several other judges charged with allegations of ticket-fixing in the Traffic Court.
In contrast, McGinley opined that Bruno should be paid during his suspension because the Court of Judicial Discipline had the opportunity to develop a record that the Supreme Court did not, because the state constitution authorizes the Court of Judicial Discipline to issue orders of interim suspension, and because the Supreme Court "recently recognized that authority" for the Court of Judicial Discipline to also suspend judges.
The authority for the Court of Judicial Discipline to enter interim suspension orders was established, McGinley said, when the Supreme Court entered an order suspending Orie Melvin with pay, the Court of Judicial Discipline entered a later conflicting order for her suspension to be without pay, and the Supreme Court took no further action, "in our view, entirely consistent with and in recognition of this court's right, authority, and duty to enter such an order."
In a concurring opinion, Judge Charles A. Clement Jr., joined by Judges John R. Cellucci and Carmella Mullen, came out even more strongly than his colleagues in declaring that the authority to suspend judges on an interim basis rests with the Court of Judicial Discipline alone. The majority opinion appears to characterize the authority as coextensive.
(Copies of the nine-page opinion in In re Sullivan, PICS No. 13-2333, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •