Supreme Court chief removes a top Traffic Court judge
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, citing a long-running culture of tickets being fixed for favoritism, removed Philadelphia Traffic Court Administrative Judge Michael Sullivan from his post this morning, amid a federal investigation that has prompted several FBI raids.
"What our review has found so far is the practice of accepting external requests for favorable treatment was so prevailing that it has become institutionalized in the operations of the courts," Castille said. "It involved administrative staff in addition to the judges."
Sullivan, who was reelected last month to a second six-year term, will remain for now on the bench hearing cases, Castille said, but under the watchful eye of Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer. Castille appointed Glazer today to oversee all administrative functions at Traffic Court.
Castille said the Supreme Court is launching a review of Traffic Court but is not working "hand-in-hand" with a federal investigation into the same judicial body. Federal agents served subpoenas at Sullivan's Traffic Court offices in September.
Castille said the agents also served subpoenas at the home of retired Traffic Court Administrative Judge Fortunado Perri Sr. and William Hird, Traffic Court director of records. Castille added that two local bars, the Fireside Tavern and the Cannonball Tavern, were raided by the FBI as part of the investigation.
Castille said he did not know if the FBI investigation is related to an August 2010 visit to the offices an home of Traffic Court Bob Mulgrew. That multi-location raid included visits to the home, state office and private business of state Rep. Bill Keller in South Philadelphia. Federal agents also visited that day the home of Keller's business partner, his chief of staff and a public relations consultant who had worked on his campaign.
Seven judges in Traffic Court hear all summary violations for state motor vehicle code laws in Philadelphia. Sullivan was appointed administrative judge of Traffic court on April 27 by the state Supreme Court.
Traffic court operates with a $5.3 million annual budget and each year returns about six times that much in fines and fees to the state, city and court system, according to the First Judicial District.