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February 13, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

Senate moves to kill Philly Traffic Court day after judges’ guilty plea

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – The state Senate approved legislation to abolish the scandal-ridden Philadelphia Traffic Court, one day after two former judges pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into corruption and ticket-fixing.

TRAFFIC COURT: The corruption-riddled Philadelphia Traffic Court is one step closer to being closed for good after a pair of unanimous Senate votes on Wednesday.

One bill approved by the state Senate would transfer the responsibilities of the traffic court to the Philadelphia Municipal Court and would move two of the traffic court’s seven current judges into new roles within the municipal court, effectively shuttering the traffic court as an independent judicial body.  A second bill would amend the state constitution to remove the traffic court permanently.

“There is no good reason for taxpayers to continue footing the bill for a court that is unnecessary and has become an embarrassment to the state’s judicial system,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, who sponsored the bills.

Both bills passed unanimously and now move to the state House.

On Tuesday, former Traffic Court judges Kenneth Miller and Warren Hogeland pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and mail fraud for agreeing to drop traffic tickets against politically connected individuals. They were two of nine current and former judges and employees of the court who were indicted last month after a federal investigation into ticket-fixing and corruption at the court.

“The betrayal of public trust at the Traffic Court in Philadelphia is a travesty,” state Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, said Wednesday. “It’s an issue that demands incredible amount of reform.”

PILEGGI: Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, sponsored the traffic court abolition bills.

Pileggi’s legislation was inspired by a review of the Traffic Court by the state Supreme Court, which uncovered a long history of questionable ethics at the court.  Philadelphia is the only county in the state with a separate traffic court.

A fiscal analysis of the legislation by the state Senate estimated $650,000 in savings to the state budget next year, assuming the Philadelphia Municipal Court can fully absorb the cases from the traffic court.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the passage of the bills a positive step but called for comprehensive ethics training for judges and court staff, increased transparency and an end to “the culture of entitlement” that allows the well-connected to get favors from the legal system.

“Policymakers, community leaders, and everyday Philadelphians must work together to change the culture of favoritism and backroom dealing that has plagued Philadelphia Traffic Court from its inception,” Marks said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said there would be hearings on the bill before it goes before the chamber.

“I think there is significant interest in moving it,” he said.

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

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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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