Philadelphia traffic, municipal courts set to merge

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What was once known as the "no-fix" court is about to be fixed up after Gov. Tom Corbett signed enabling legislation last week to merge the Philadelphia Traffic Court into Philadelphia Municipal Court, a consolodation that comes after several current and former traffic judges were charged by federal prosecutors with ticket-fixing.

Three judges have pled guilty. Six have entered pleas of not guilty.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer, who was appointed the administrative judge of Traffic Court, also said he has been advised by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, liaison justice to the First Judicial District, that he is to stay with Traffic Court during the transition.

The plan is to eventually transition the Traffic Court portfolio entirely to Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield, Judge Glazer said.

State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, the majority leader of the Senate, sponsored the proposed legislative solution to the ticket-fixing, a model in which judges will no longer be elected by voters in low-wattage elections that tend to turn on candidates who had the Democratic political endorsement.

Instead, there will be two new, law-trained Municipal Court judges to adjudicate any Traffic Court cases involving jail sentencing, and there will be hearing officers appointed by the Municipal Court president judge whose jobs could be on the line if they engage in improper behavior.

"We have to devise appropriate and fair hiring procedures for the hearing officers," Judge Glazer said. "We have to reconfigure our IT programs because there will be different cases adjudicated by hearing officers and by the Municipal Court judges. We have to consider even reconfiguring the Traffic Court building."

When the court was created in 1957, the court was called the "no-fix" court, and after Traffic Court was reorganized in 1957, "the court also has succeeded, as far as can be determined, in erasing from the courtroom the once familiar sight of the committeeman with a handful of tickets," according to two anonymous authors assessing the court's impact in a 1961 article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

But the custom of the politically connected allegedly fixing their tickets did not die with the structural changes in 1957, according to federal prosecutors, as well as a report conducted by consultancy Chadwick Associates.

The federal indictment of Traffic Court judges, a court administrator and two businessmen, as well as the internal report, described a two-tiered system in which the politically connected could get their traffic tickets fixed, but the average person could not.

Having legally trained judges will be important because of questions about jurisdiction, the motor vehicle code, and appeals to the Court of Common Pleas, Judge Glazer said.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts' Lynn Marks said in an email that restructuring the adjudication of traffic cases also must be paired with the training for hearing officers, including on ethics.

Ms. Marks and Committee of Seventy's Zack Stalberg both said they were pleased that Judge Glazer will continue to be involved in the court.

"His dedication to cleaning up Traffic Court and leadership in crafting reforms has made him an indispensable part of this transition process," Ms. Marks said.

Mr. Stalberg said the change would not have happened without the Republicans in the Legislature.

"The only way you're going to change [ticket-fixing] is by changing the administration of tickets and traffic offenses," he said.

A second bill that would eliminate the constitutional authority for the Philadelphia Traffic Court passed this session. The legislation must pass again in 2014 and then be approved by Pennsylvania voters in 2015.

legalnews

Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 215-557-2354. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com


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