The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, over the objections of its chief justice and another member, this week vacated an order suspending without pay a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge who was acquitted by a federal jury of all charges in a ticket-fixing case.

A similar order issued by the Court of Judicial Discipline remains in effect against Michael J. Sullivan, a South Philadelphia tavern owner and former ward leader who became administrative judge of Traffic Court.

In September, Sullivan petitioned the high court to partially vacate the February 2013 order and award him back pay as well as pay until his term ends at the end of 2017. He has not yet made a similar request to the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Sullivan was suspended by the Supreme Court after he was federally indicted along with eight others in the ticket-fixing scandal. The high court said that its order, issued Tuesday, "recognizes petitioner's subsequent acquittal of all such charges."

In a nine-page dissent, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille criticized the order, arguing that Sullivan may gain the perception "that this court is content to lay the matter to rest."

Justice Correale F. Stevens also dissented but did not file a statement.

Castille also lamented the federal jury's verdict, and suggested that a law explicitly making it a felony for a judge to fix a case or attempt to influence the outcome of a case may be overdue.

"I respectfully dissent because I do not believe that the federal acquittal puts an end to the inquiry involving misconduct, either as an administrative matter or as a disciplinary matter," Castille wrote.

Commenting on the federal jury's decision, Castille said its members apparently succumbed to "the jaundiced view of Philadelphia being happy and contented, wallowing in corruption."

Castille said the "temerity" of Sullivan's request for back pay and future pay while not working "corroborates, in my mind at least, that there is a serious question of whether he is fit to be a judge."

The defense in the ticket-fixing case argued that no crime occurred.

After the verdict, Sullivan remarked: "As far as I'm concerned, I was indicted for doing my job."

bmoran@phillynews.com

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