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Philadelphia Traffic Court indictments leave few judges to hear cases

It was almost like the idle wish of someone on the way to Traffic Court to face yet another $30-a-month levy on top of existing now-to-eternity payment plans:

It was almost like the idle wish of someone on the way to Traffic Court to face yet another $30-a-month levy on top of existing now-to-eternity payment plans:

What if, just for today, all of the judges got arrested?

Indeed, on a day when nine current or former judges were appearing before judges, most courtrooms were empty in the Traffic Court building at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets.

"We're down a fair number of judges due to suspensions, retirements, and indictments," said Administrative Judge Gary S. Glazer, brought in a year ago to change the culture at the now-hobbled Traffic Court. "Normally, there would be more judges."

Still, the 300 or so people on the hearing list - from Abraham to Zoto - were consolidated into three courtrooms with two judges brought in from the suburbs. One, Philip Daly, helpfully brought along his "Magisterial District Judge" nameplate from Bucks County to display.

"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," an affable Judge Larry Smith said on his third day out of retirement from his Chester County home court when asked about the federal indictments.

Meanwhile, the ticketed, towed, and occasionally handcuffed masses went through the usual Traffic Court motions of those for whom the fix is decidedly not in.

"What do I have to do, bow down to them?" said Nicole Shelton, 35, of Germantown, who said she had been unable to prove she had already paid a $619.70 fine and had to pay again. "Something's going on, but we as regular citizens have no recourse. Can we sue?"

The indictments were the subject of dark humor. "Do they fix tickets?" asked Ivana Baran, an interpreter for a man who had only a Brazilian license. "Who do I talk to?"

One lawyer who would not give his name - "I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me" - said, "It's not something that's not done everywhere else. Honestly, it's a shame for some, others should have seen it coming."

The courtroom personnel showed the trappings of what Glazer acknowledged was an insular culture: They challenged the right of a reporter to observe or take notes, and threw out one man for laughing.

"It's a culture, a political culture problem," Glazer said. "I've tried to instill in courtroom personnel the need for integrity."

The only Philadelphia judge on duty Thursday was newbie Christine Solomon, who last year told Supreme Court investigators she had sought "special consideration" for constituents when she was a ward leader in the Northeast.

On Thursday, Solomon, who was not charged, accepted the usual guilty pleas - fines, no points, payment plans; heard the usual excuses ("my GPS made me do it"); gave no breaks to cabbies who pulled over in bus lanes; and signed a stack of "GIAs": guilty in absentia.

"I've got a lot of thoughts, but nothing I'm going to mention at this time," she said when asked about the indictments and the judges. She did complain about not being able to understand the speech of some of the people before her.

When Ricardo Garcia, 22, a tattoo artist and deejay from Kensington with a $255 fine, stuck his head into her courtroom and called out, "Thank you, Judge," Solomon knew where she stood, especially on this day.

"I think that was sarcastic," she said.

It was.