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Senior Traffic Court judge quietly leaves post

The 21-year career of Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Bernice DeAngelis has come to a quiet but definitive end after state court officials said her services as senior judge were no longer needed.

The 21-year career of Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Bernice DeAngelis has come to a quiet but definitive end after state court officials said her services as senior judge were no longer needed.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer - named Traffic Court's administrative judge in December in a reform move by the state Supreme Court - confirmed DeAngelis' April 20 departure in a Friday phone interview.

Glazer declined to elaborate, saying, "All senior judges serve at the pleasure of the Supreme Court. Her services are now complete."

Pennsylvania judges are required to retire from active service at 70, but many continue working as senior judges under assignment by the state Supreme Court. For that reason, Glazer added, DeAngelis' departure would not create a court vacancy.

DeAngelis, 72, could not be reached for comment.

Her attorney, Lynanne B. Wescott, said there was nothing unusual about DeAngelis' departure.

Wescott said DeAngelis retired Dec. 31, 2010, but was asked to stay on as a senior Traffic Court judge. She served as administrative judge until April 27, 2011, and then as a regular Traffic Court judge until a week ago. "If she never gets called again, that's fine. Her service is complete," Wescott added. "If she gets called, that would not be a surprise either."

That call does not seem likely. Glazer said any future need for senior judges on Traffic Court would be filled with retired judges from outside Philadelphia.

The abrupt departure of the veteran judge - DeAngelis was also the court's administrative judge in the mid-1990s - ignited rumors in court circles that it might be related to the ongoing federal grand jury investigation of Traffic Court.

Wescott said DeAngelis, like most Traffic Court employees, has received subpoenas or been interviewed as part of the investigation.

"I really don't have any concerns for Bernice in that matter," Wescott said.

Traffic Court, which operates from a gray brick building at 800 Spring Garden St., handles about 170,000 cases a year, ranging from ticket appeals to adjudicating suspensions and citations issued to overweight trucks.

The judges do not have to be lawyers, though they must pass an exam before they begin serving. Traffic Court's seven judges each earn $89,000 a year, and they are elected for six-year terms. DeAngelis, as a senior judge, held a month-to-month contract for $89,000 annually.

The court has long been disdained by the public as a patronage mill where politicians can fix the tickets of constituents and supporters.

There have been other problems. Willie Singletary, a judge elected in 2007 despite a suspended driver's license and a hastily resolved backlog of thousands of dollars in tickets, resigned this year after allegedly showing photos of his genitals to a court worker.

The court's reputation began catching up to it last year when state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille suddenly stripped Judge Michael J. Sullivan of his title as administrative judge.

Castille said the high court's internal probe had found that Traffic Court judges regularly accepted requests for favorable rulings from the "politically connected."

In December, Castille replaced Sullivan with Glazer, a former federal prosecutor now in his 21st year on Common Pleas Court.

The internal review, which has included an investigation by the Chadwick Associates firm, is continuing, along with Glazer's efforts to reorganize the court's operation.

DeAngelis was no stranger to politics and Traffic Court turmoil. She was elected as an ally of Vincent J. Fumo, the once-powerful Democratic state senator. She had been a ward leader in South Philadelphia.

DeAngelis was named administrative judge in 1996 in what the court's then-chief judge, Charles H. Cuffeld, said was a move to gut his authority for refusing to name a Fumo ally to an administrative job.

Cuffeld sued in federal court, contending that the move was racial - he was black, the administrative candidate he refused to hire was white - but the suit was dismissed.

As administrative judge, DeAngelis kept a high public profile, regularly announcing initiatives to boot the vehicles of scofflaws with backlogs of tickets or citations.