Under the hammer of two probes are “five elected and commissioned judges of the Traffic Court and two Senior Judges who sat regularly prior to the Sep. 11 raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
So begins the much-heralded Chadwick Associates report compiled by William G. Chadwick at a reported cost of $400,000, Commission by State S.C. Justice Ron Castille, and presented to Judge Gary S. Glazer who presently resides over Traffic Court operations.
At the same time, while you read this, the FBI continues to draw several hundred Philadelphians to a grand jury it hopes will give it enough evidence to come up with indictments of some of those judges.
The Chadwick report identifies the judges as “Judges Thomasine Tynes, Michael Sullivan, Robert Mulgrew, Michael Lowery and Willie Singletary; Senior Judge Bernice DeAngelis, and Senior Magisterial District Judge Warren Hogeland of Bucks Co. In addition, this report addressed certain conduct by Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon, a former ward leader who assumed office in March 2012.”
The Chadwick report came to 35 pages, and it “is limited to the conduct of the judges in adjudicating cases,” though the “review identified other areas of concern in the operation of the Traffic Court.”
At the same time, the Feds, while some of their investigators deny they have read the report, are probably using the findings in the Chadwick report to guide their questioning before their grand jury.
The Chadwick report found “the judges routinely made, accepted and granted third-party requests for preferential treatment for politically connected individuals with cases in Traffic Court. In some cases, judges granted preferential treatment to violators whose identities or connections they knew even if no express request was made.”
To their credit, neither Judges Sullivan nor Solomon agreed to be tried by Chadwick operatives obviously out to crucify them.
The Chadwick report was commissioned by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who is liaison justice to the 1st Judicial Dist., which is the Philadelphia court system. He did so after search warrants were executed of some of the offices, homes and businesses of Traffic Court employees.
The report boils down to the fact judges may have given preferential treatment to some defendants before them, but the report did not determine which of these cases were dismissed by the many mistakes made in the writing of these tickets by police.
“Whose word do you take?” is the question before a seating judge in Traffic Court. Is it the individual who is eyeballing the judge, or a summary reading of the ticket by an officer assigned to the court, in lieu of the issuing officer?
Most judges would opt to give some deference to the defendant, especially when there are flaws in the description and writing and improper filling out of the ticket by the hurried police officer who wrote the ticket.
Since Traffic Court, according to the report, “is not a court of record, proceedings are not transcribed and records of the evidence presented in court (e.g., proof of registration, licensure and insurance) are not reliably maintained … the evidentiary basis for most adjudications cannot be determined from the individual case folder.”
Neither could its investigators locate “written requests for special consideration, described by numerous employees as names on index cards or on database printouts that were passed to judges or their personals.”
The report was compiled from the testimony of 42 Court employees, four Traffic Court judges and one Supreme Court justice. It complained some were wary, others reluctant to offer information, probably out of loyalty to the political party which is the source of source of their jobs. This testimony, court employees have related, was elicited under threat of arrest or firing.
Nowhere in the report is there any incident of money passing hands in the adjudicating of cases, either by court employees or judges.
Though the Chadwick report claims an acquittal rate of 85% for Traffic Court employees and their family members compared to an acquittal rate of 26% for the general public at large, its compilers did not check which tickets were easily dismissed because of faulty handling by the officers who handled the tickets.
There are over 100 traffic laws that can easily be broken and just as easily adjudicated, especially when the defendant presents up-to-date proof of registration, insurance, and inspections and repair bills showing the defects that caused the ticket to be issued were corrected.
After the federal raid in September 2011, that practice ceased, reports Chadwick. Judges subsequently interviewed indicate they had received requests, but those requests were minimal. Judges have been hearing an average of 300 cases per day.
The Chadwick report made much ado over a request it said came from Justice Seamus McCaffery when his wife appeared in Traffic Court.
The report found some cases where cousins and immediate neighbors of Traffic Court judges were found not guilty, yet it did not delve into whether those tickets were discharged because of faulty ticket-writing.
Nowhere in the report was there an indication serious violations were summarily discharged.
Impartial observers see another take in this effort to embarrass Traffic Court and its judges.
There has long been an effort to change the structure of the court, seeking a constitutional amendment to prohibit non-lawyers from sitting on that bench, or replace the judges with unelected hearing officers under the City’s Dept. of Revenue, whose only concern would be to insure maximum return to the city treasury as has been done with parking tickets. Another suggestion made by the report was to turn all ticket hearings over to Municipal Court, which is already totally deluged.
Contrary to Chadwick’s report, the “non-favored, non-influential, non-connected” defendants appearing in Philadelphia Traffic Court do not suffer a 71% conviction rate. An accurate court study will show a much lower rate. Thirty-five percent of those who do not show up are found guilty. Of the rest of the violators who do show for a hearing, 54% are found guilty. Of the 54%, it is admitted over 90% do get points or suspensions lifted or pay reduced fines.
What has not been mentioned in the Chadwick report or understood by Justice Castille is Traffic Court judges must make decisions based on a one-minute or two-minute trial, since they handle as many as 300 cases daily.
Tickets are discharged for a myriad of reasons, most of them because of faulty ticket-writing by issuing officers.
It was obvious Bill Chadwick had the benefit of an advance propaganda machine which terrified employees of Traffic Court. When many were interviewed, they were told if they did not cooperate, they would be terminated. They were not allowed a lawyer or a union representative to be with them during the interrogation. The questions were leading.
Traffic Court judges have been more aware of the impact of their decisions than those judges sitting in the higher courts. They know, for instance, auto-insurance companies will increase rates to a defendant of $500 per point they receive as a result of a traffic violation.
Their understanding is what had earned Traffic Court its street name as “the Peoples’ Court.”