Bills to eliminate Philadelphia traffic court flying through Legislature
The Philadelphia Traffic Court has had its share of problems over the last few years. In January, nine judges or former judges were charged with fixing tickets for friends and political allies by the U.S. attorney’s office. The feds alleged “a widespread culture of giving breaks on traffic citations to friends, family, the politically-connected and business associates.”
One of those charged, Robert Mulgrew had already been indicted three months earlier of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants meant for a nonprofit. And months before that, Willie Singletary resigned in disgrace after a female Traffic Court cashier accused him of showing her digital photographs of his erect penis.
Critics argue this is the sort of thing that happens when the requirements for becoming a judge are minimal. In Philadelphia, if you want to run for Traffic Court Judge, you’ve got to live in Philadelphia for year. That’s it.
With that in mind, there’s been a movement recently to eliminate the Traffic Court all together. Two bills passed through the House Judiciary Committee this morning, with one lone “no” vote put forth by Vanessa Brown (D-Philadelphia). And it’s been a long time coming, even though the fight to get rid of the whole thing may take a lot longer.
The State Senate voted unanimously in February to abolish the Court, passing two separate bills that would transfer the court’s responsibilities to the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Philadelphia is the only county in Pennsylvania with a separate traffic court and critics, like state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, noted after the Senate’s vote that elimination could save Philadelphia more than half-a-million dollars a year. Traffic court judges receive an annual salary of $91,052, according to Pennsylvania code.
Even if the bills which went through committee this morning are passed by the full House, the fight for the court’s life is not over. Eliminating traffic court requires amending the Pennsylvania Constitution—which means the elimination bills must be passed in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly, and then voted upon by the public. Not an easy—or quick—task. Best case scenario for opponents, traffic court would be eliminated by 2015.
In the meantime, three traffic court seats are open on the 2013 election ballot—and there are 27 candidates between two parties. The Committee of Seventy has called upon the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 334—one of the bills laid on the table today—which would eliminate the three positions (and, therefore, candidates) who’d eventually be on the ballot in November. A full House vote is expected in June.
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