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Easing the bottleneck of Traffic Court problems

In an announcement about as shocking as the proverbial revelation that there's "gambling in River City," Philadelphia Traffic Court has been unmasked as a place where — gasp — the well-connected may well be able to get their tickets fixed.

As described by the state's chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, there's an "ingrained culture of adjusting these tickets and not giving the city or citizens a fair shake."

Finding out just how ingrained that culture may be falls to Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer, whom Castille installed last week as the new Traffic Court administrator as part of a welcome shake-up.

Federal authorities have been poking around for months, trying to determine whether money or anything of value ever changes hands over tickets. A grand jury is questioning witnesses, although no one has been charged with any wrongdoing.

But it's a good sign that Castille, acting on behalf of his fellow state Supreme Court justices, hasn't waited for the outcome of the federal probe.

Following an internal review that showed problems, Castille removed the court's administrative judge, Michael J. Sullivan, installed Glazer, and vowed to end favoritism that he said violates the state's conduct code for judges.

That's an important message to send the public in general, not to mention the thousands of motorists who trudge to the court each year to answer for speeding, running stop signs, and other infractions.

In hailing Castille's move, a court reform group — Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts — said "it's not acceptable for there to be either a reality or a public belief that who you know determines your outcome in Traffic Court."

One of the possible reforms, according to Glazer, could be naming an ethics officer for the court. Yet, the state's judicial disciplinary system should be able to police judges who run afoul of the conduct rules, and should do so if Castille's further review of Traffic Court produces specific evidence of misconduct.

As Glazer has concluded, changing the entrenched Traffic Court culture won't happen overnight. Yet, with FBI agents carrying out search warrants, and the Supreme Court decrying the alleged favoritism, the outlook for reform is at least somewhat hopeful.