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January 11, 2013 | By | Posted in General News

Senator: Abolish corruption-riddled Philadelphia Traffic Court

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – A top lawmaker in the state Senate wants to do away with the corruption-plagued Philadelphia Traffic Court.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, announced Friday his intention to introduce legislation that would close the traffic court and transfer its responsibilities to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

The Philadelphia Traffic Court was the subject of a stinging review of by the state Supreme Court last year that concluded the court had “two tracks of justice – one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public.”

TICKET FIXING: The Philadelphia Traffic Court has been riddled with corruption for years, according to a new report commissioned by the state Supreme Court. Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, says the court should be abolished entirely.

“The lack of integrity at Philadelphia Traffic court has been demonstrated time after time,” Pileggi said in a statement. “Experience proves that in order to clean up this court, we must eliminate it.”

Philadelphia is the only county in the state with a separate traffic court.  Unlike most courts in the state, judges in the Philadelphia Traffic Court are not required to be attorneys.

The recent Supreme Court report said those judges “routinely made, accepted and granted third-party requests for preferential treatment for politically connected individuals.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that one such case involved the wife of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCafferty, who successfully dodged a traffic ticket for driving the wrong way on a one-way street in May 2010.

A 1997 review of the court described it as a “judicial backwater” and a good place to stash party hacks, generate patronage jobs and earn favors by fixing tickets or throwing out cases, Pileggi said.

Calls to the offices of the court were not returned Friday.

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, said Friday there need to be changes at the court if it is true that some people have been treated differently than others.

“The system should be run in a manner where special treatment is not necessary,” Kitchen said.

But, she said, more study was necessary before the court could be abolished entirely — including a determination about whether the Philadelphia Municipal Court could take on more cases.

In September 2011, the FBI executed search warrants at the homes and offices of several current and former Traffic Court judges, according to the Supreme Court report and multiple media reports.

After the searches, the FBI served grand jury subpoenas to Traffic Court administrators relating to the practices and policies of the court, the Supreme Court report states.

The seven judges for the Philadelphia Traffic Court make more than $91,000 annually.

Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the drivers’ advocacy organization does not have a position on Pileggi’s legislation.

However, AAA believes mutual respect should exist between motorists and law enforcement agencies and that fair and equitable penalties should be established for traffic violations, she said.

Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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