Phila. Traffic Court Closer To Oblivion

Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia’s embattled Traffic Court is one vote and one key signature away from extinction.

The state House on Wednesday, by a vote of 114-81, gave final approval to a bill to dissolve the court, just four months after federal indictments were issued against nine current and former judges in a ticket-fixing scandal.

The Senate is expected to approve the legislation as early as next week. A spokeswoman said Gov. Corbett is “inclined” to sign it.

Traffic Court functions would be transferred to Municipal Court, which would get two more judge positions. In addition, the president judge would have the authority to appoint hearing officers to hear traffic cases.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said it was time for a long era of corruption to end.

“Philadelphia Traffic Court is widely known as an institution where people are treated differently based on who they are or who they know,” he said. “That kind of unfairness cannot be tolerated, particularly not in our courtrooms.”

The vote came over the strenuous objections of Philadelphia Democrats, who argued it would infringe on the rights of voters and overburden municipal judges.

“This creates an unnecessary burden on fewer judges,” said Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.), who predicted it would face a constitutional challenge. “This is an overreaction to a terrible series of events.”

House Republican leaders praised the bill’s passage and wondered how the behavior of the court’s judges could be defended. Only one of seven judges is still hearing cases. Two retired, and the other four are under suspension following their indictments.

“We are at a loss as to how anyone could defend it. There are lot of guilty pleas and indictments, there’s only one sitting judge; talk about a systemic court of corruption, that was it,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny). “Philadelphians will still have a say with the election of municipal judges.”

A companion bill approved Tuesday would amend the constitution to formally abolish the court. That process requires approval by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions followed by a referendum.