Karen Heller: Pa. justices let infighting come before Traffic Court action
The exhaustive report is excoriating in its summation. "I regret to say that our worst fears have been realized. The conditions existing at Traffic Court reveal the system itself to be a complete disaster," the Pennsylvania chief justice concludes.
The exhaustive report is excoriating in its summation.
"I regret to say that our worst fears have been realized. The conditions existing at Traffic Court reveal the system itself to be a complete disaster," the Pennsylvania chief justice concludes.
Investigators note "that the system and procedures employed by the Philadelphia Traffic Court are seriously deficient. They virtually invite wrongdoing" at an institution continually referred to, in capital letters, as a "Corrupt Organization."
These excerpts can be found in the 1986 investigation into malfeasance at the hackatorium, an early holiday gift from my friend, who treasured her yellowed copy as a keepsake.
Traffic Court has been viewed as a mess for so long that the overwhelming reader reaction to this latest report has been, Welcome to Philadelphia, where fixing tickets is a time-honored art form. The whole system is predicated on things not working, or working in a specific way, so elected officials can fix problems and keep their jobs.
The investigation details the actions of 10 current or former judges, including Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.
After the report's highlights first appeared in The Inquirer, several members of the high court were reportedly more enraged over its public airing, as it involved a fellow justice, than the actual findings that reveal a Traffic Court still rotten to its core.
The report, costing around $400,000 in public funds, was prepared by Chadwick Associates, led by William Chadwick, Chief Justice Ronald Castille's top deputy when he was Philadelphia D.A. The findings are said to have deepened the rift between Castille and McCaffery, who hopes to replace the chief justice as court liaison to the Philadelphia court system.
The anger among justices - "The blowback has been ferocious," one insider reports - is apparently directed not only at Chadwick but at Judge Gary S. Glazer, whom Castille appointed to oversee reform efforts at Traffic Court.
So much for reform. Long live the mess!
Two years ago, Castille hired Chadwick to investigate the troubled Family Court development at 15th and Arch Streets, a project the chief justice closely supervised.
At the time, Castille promised a "thorough, independent, and objective" review, vowing "a full public accounting."
In turn, Chadwick pledged a complete investigation: "I am not going to pull punches," he said. "My whole practice depends on operating ethically and transparently."
But that report was never prepared for the public.
Instead, Chadwick's findings were folded into litigation against lawyer Jeffrey B. Rotwitt - who represented both the courts and the developer - and his former law firm to recover public funds paid on the deal. Chadwick's work cost taxpayers almost $1 million. On Tuesday, the $4 million settlement was made public.
Chadwick, a former state inspector general, was also retained for a report on the criminal courts after The Inquirer's investigation into the system's myriad failings. Those findings were made public.
In all, Chadwick has been paid $2.1 million, plus expenses, to investigate problems in three branches of Philadelphia's court system.
These are our courts, our money, and it's unclear if we're any closer to having a better judicial system.
"The fundamental problem here is a court with unusual and heavy nonjudicial responsibilities. Justices should not be investigating," says Duquesne law professor Bruce Ledewitz, an authority on the court. "Justices should not be developing real estate. Justices should not be designing buildings. Justices should only be deciding cases."
Another concern is whether, in a quarter-century, we'll be adding to the stack another damning report of the Corrupt Organization that is Traffic Court.