Throughout his nearly two decades at Philadelphia Traffic Court, William Hird rarely said no.
Not to the Democratic ward leaders and local politicians who came to him seeking help with traffic tickets. Not to the court's judges, who designated him their point man for handling requests for special consideration. And not to prosecutors, who offered him a deal to plead guilty this year instead of fighting federal charges stemming from that ticket-fixing scheme.
And for that, the Traffic Court's 69-year-old retired director of records received little in return. What he got was one of the stiffest punishments yet in the federal conspiracy case that prompted the dismantling of the court last year.
Hird was sentenced to two years in prison Monday, nearly a year after first admitting his essential role in what prosecutors have called Traffic Court's long-standing culture of cronyism.
Judges routinely passed requests to fix tickets for friends, family, and political allies between their chambers, and Hird was often the one carrying the messages.
A former carpet layer and an eighth-grade dropout, he landed a job as a personal assistant to then-Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr. in 1997 and rose to become one of the court's top administrators.
But friends testified Monday that well into adulthood, he continued to feel intimidated by those who had gone to college or held positions of authority.
Slump-shouldered and defeated, Hird made no attempt during his sentencing hearing to explain his actions or ask for mercy.
"I stand before you a broken, humiliated, and shamed man," he told U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly. "I have hit bottom only because I stopped digging."
Still, his lawyer, Gregory Pagano, could not help feeling that his client received a raw deal.
"Mr. Hird did as he was told," he said. "He wasn't a judge. He had no decision-making ability over the disposition of these cases."
Unlike most of the judges charged alongside him, Hird admitted his guilt, sparing the government a lengthy trial.
And yet, because he pleaded guilty to 18 counts including conspiracy and mail and wire fraud, he faced punishment for those felony convictions, while the five former Traffic Court judges who put their cases before a jury earlier this year were acquitted on similar counts.
Jurors convicted four of the judges on counts of perjury or lying to the FBI. The two sentenced so far - Robert Mulgrew and Thomasine Tynes - received sentences of 18 months and two years.
Hird's sentence Monday exceeded both. In addition to the two-year prison sentence, Hird was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
But Kelly saw no need to grant Hird a break in light of the trial's outcome.
He rejected a part of the former court administrator's plea deal that would have lessened his sentencing range.
"Politicians, friends, and ward leaders approached him for preferential treatment," Kelly said. "And as far as we can tell he said no to none of them."