By the end of the month Philadelphia’s infamous Traffic Court will be consigned to a sour footnote in city history.
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to abolish the court and transfer its duties to Municipal Court, just four months after federal indictments were issued against nine current and former judges in a ticket-fixing scandal.
Kelli Roberts, a spokeswoman for Gov. Corbett, said the governor will sign the bill when it reaches his desk. It will take effect immediately.
Speaking on the Senate floor, the bill sponsor, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), recited a litany of Traffic Court travails dating to 1978 when the president judge was indicted for taking $32,000 in gifts and bribes.
“Through the last 50 years, the Philadelphia Traffic Court has demonstrated a remarkable ability to be the center of scandal after scandal, some criminal in nature and others the result of basic incompetence,” he said. “The court has proven to be immune to all reform efforts. It’s time to do away with this institution.”
Sen. Mike Stack (D., Phila.) said that while the court has many excellent employees, it was “beyond saving.”
“The people of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania deserve better,” he said, but he cautioned that the Municipal Court needed to have resources to handle the large volume of ticket cases, totaling 158,000 a year.
Under the bill, a traffic division will be created within the Municipal Court, which will get two more judge positions. In addition, the president judge will have the authority to appoint hearing officers to hear traffic cases.
Elections now scheduled to fill the current vacancies on Traffic Court will be canceled.
The legislation cleared the state House last week, 114-81. Some Philadelphia lawmakers in the House opposed the move, contending that it would create an unnecessary burden on Municipal Court judges and that the end of elected judges infringed on voters’ rights.
A companion bill approved last week 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.