Witnesses from several agencies testified Thursday in the Philadelphia Traffic Court trial how funding from traffic fines—or lack thereof—has affected the public.
The trial, now in its 11th day, saw testimony from officials relating to the agencies’ reliance on funding from tickets to maintain emergency medical services and access to justice for the indigent in civil legal matters.
Before the witnesses took the stand, Ballard Spahr attorney Henry Hockeimer, representing traffic court Judge Michael J. Sullivan, told the court that the inclusion of such testimony would not only be unnecessary—as many have testified as to where ticket money goes—but prejudicial.
Hockeimer added that the testimony had nothing to do with proving fraud or that a ticket-fixing scheme existed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek responded that the agencies and the funding that they receive are listed on each ticket and that Hockeimer’s objection that the testimony would illustrate victimization of the public was off point.
“If that’s the case, we shouldn’t even say that the funds go to the commonwealth,” Wzorek said.
Ultimately, presiding U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania allowed the government to call the witnesses.
“If this were an identity fraud case or credit card fraud case with Target or Costco, we’d have the loss-control people in here to explain how that works,” Stengel said. “I’ve heard consistently and effectively from the defense that there was no loss to the city or commonwealth. I think this goes to that.”
The first witness from a state organization to take the stand was Richard Gibbons, director of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, a division of the state Department of Health.
Gibbons testified that $10 from every ticket goes to EMS, with $7.50 apportioned to its general operating fund and $2.50 to the catastrophic head injury fund.
“But for this money, are you funded in any other way?” Wzorek asked Gibbons.
Gibbons answered that EMS was totally dependent on fine revenue. “Anything we do to help advance the system, everything comes out of that EMS operating fund,” he said.
Hockeimer asked Gibbons, “The funding comes from citations across the commonwealth, not just Philadelphia, right?” Gibbons said yes.
Additionally, Samuel Milkes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN), testified as to citation revenue’s impact on the indigent.
Milkes said his organization, which handles foreclosure cases, domestic violence, custody and other civil cases for the poor, is apportioned $2 of every ticket for civil legal aid. He also said $8 of every ticket goes to the judicial computerization program.
“We’ve had to close offices and lay off staff in the last couple of years,” Milkes added. No cross-examination by defense counsel followed Milkes’ testimony.
After Milkes stepped down from the witness stand, the judge asked the jury to leave the courtroom so that counsel could discuss the testimony of the next witness, John Lynch, supervisor of the appeals and attorney listings units at traffic court. Lynch currently holds the same position at the Philadelphia Municipal Court’s traffic division.
Chinatown businessman Robert Moy’s attorney told the court that he expected Lynch to testify that Moy offered him a trip to Atlantic City, N.J. In doing so, Paul Hetznecker reasoned, the government was trying to establish that a quid pro quo relationship existed between Moy and the traffic court employee.
Wzorek said Moy would frequently ask Lynch for court documents and that the offer was an attempt to “curry favor” with Lynch. Hetznecker insisted that Lynch’s testimony on the matter would be prejudicial and irrelevant.
“It could be relevant to the extent to which your client was interested in obtaining Mr. Lynch’s help,” Stengel told Hetznecker.
Stengel added that the case focused on alleged “back room” dealings and was replete with evidence to that effect.
“I mean, I have a lot of friends; no one’s ever offered to send me to Atlantic City for the weekend,” Stengel said. He stipulated, however, “Certainly we could give a cautionary instruction” to the jury “that this case is not about bribes.”
When Lynch took the stand, he testified under immunity that he had been an acquaintance of Moy’s for roughly 15 years.
Lynch said he did not initially agree to give Moy copies of judges’ schedules or the results of ticket adjudications, but did so after being given permission by former traffic court Administrative Judge Bernice DeAngelis. Lynch testified that acting under Moy’s request, traffic court Judge Thomasine Tynes spoke to DeAngelis about the matter. DeAngelis is not a defendant in the case.
Wzorek asked Lynch if Moy had ever mentioned Atlantic City to him.
“He said if I ever wanted to go to Atlantic City he could provide me with a stay,” Lynch replied. “He was a real fast talker and I just ignored it.”
Lynch also testified that he asked traffic court operations manager Bernard Lindline for consideration for traffic tickets issued to his nephew and friend.
Stevens & Lee attorney William DeStefano, who represents defendant Michael Lowry, asked Lynch if he knew what happened to his nephew’s ticket.
Lynch testified that his nephew told him he believed he was not guilty, showed up for his hearing to fight the ticket given to him for making an illegal turn, and later told Lynch he was found not guilty.
One of the last witnesses of the day to take the stand was retired Delaware County Magisterial District Judge Kenneth Miller. Miller testified that he had temporarily worked in the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Wzorek asked Miller if he had ever been involved in the consideration process.
Miller said he pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud relating to a ticket he forwarded William Hird, traffic court records director, for the purpose of consideration. Miller added that he is awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Robert Kelly and was cooperating with the government under a plea agreement.
“Did you think what you were doing was wrong?” Wzorek asked.
Miller hesitantly answered yes. Wzorek then asked, “Why?”
“It was totally illegal,” Miller said.
Wzorek also asked Miller why he, as a judge in traffic court, dismissed tickets while the defendants were absent from their hearings.
“It was called consideration,” Miller answered.
“Was it also called wrong?” Wzorek fired back.
Miller said it absolutely was.