Editor's Note: This story originally ran on Nov. 28, 2012.
As many as 10 current or former Philadelphia judges, including state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, could face state disciplinary proceedings following an investigative report on Philadelphia Traffic Court.
The list includes three sitting Traffic Court judges; five who no longer hear cases or have been suspended from the Traffic Court bench; one Municipal Court judge, Joseph J. O'Neill Sr., who successfully appealed a red-light ticket; and McCaffery, whose contact with the Traffic Court's director of operations about a ticket for his wife was questioned.
"Judges alleged to have engaged in unethical or inappropriate conduct have been referred to the Supreme Court and the Judicial Conduct Board," consultant William G. Chadwick wrote in the conclusion of his 35-page report. The report, set up by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, was submitted last week to Gary S. Glazer, the Common Pleas Court judge now in charge of Traffic Court operations.
The Judicial Conduct Board was created in 1993 to consider complaints about ethical misconduct by judges. Its operations are confidential, but its basic procedures are not. Its chief counsel directs a preliminary review of any complaint. The 12-member board then decides whether to authorize a full investigation.
After a full investigation, the board would either dismiss the complaint or file formal charges, to be tried publicly before another agency, the Court of Judicial Discipline.
The Judicial Conduct Board and the Court of Judicial Discipline are made up of appointees of the Supreme Court and the governor.
Chadwick, Castille's top deputy when he was Philadelphia district attorney, described a culture of free ticket-fixing at Traffic Court for people with the right connections.
Despite a Supreme Court rule that Traffic Court judges "shall not allow their family, social, or other relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment," Chadwick's report alleged that the court had established actual procedures for providing "special consideration" for the favored few.
Every judge at Traffic Court participated in the practice, Chadwick concluded, either dismissing tickets or downgrading violations to protect the offender's driving record.
Chadwick said the practice was confirmed by 22 court employees who consented to interviews. "These practices violated established standards of conduct for the minor judiciary," Chadwick wrote.
Samuel Stretton, a lawyer who deals frequently with disciplinary cases and has been retained by Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon, said complaints against judges are common.
"You'd be surprised at how many complaints are filed," Stretton said. "It doesn't necessarily take a whole lot to resolve them."
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor of law at Duquesne Law School, said "there's probably a file open on half the judges in Philadelphia at any one time."
Of the Traffic Court allegations, Ledewitz said: "Whether they're true or not, they are obviously substantial and they won't be dismissed quickly."
Ledewitz said the allegations would further undermine public confidence in Traffic Court and likely exacerbate its long-standing problems with scofflaws.
"It's extremely corrosive," Ledewitz said. "Everybody going through Traffic Court who had to pay his ticket now feels resentful because we know that the wealthy and well-connected didn't necessarily have to pay. .. . ."
Three of the Traffic Court judges implicated in Chadwick's report continue to sit on cases - Michael Sullivan, who refused Chadwick's requests for interviews, Michael Lowry, and Solomon. Lowry acknowledged the practice and cooperated with Chadwick's investigators, the report said.
The other five Traffic Court judges described as improperly dismissing cases included former President Judge Thomasine Tynes, who retired last July; Robert Mulgrew, who was suspended without pay in September after federal charges were filed against him in an unrelated matter; Willie Singletary, who resigned last March after admitting he had made improper advances to a Parking Authority employee assigned to the court; and senior judges Bernice DeAngelis and Warren Hogeland, whose certifications to sit in Traffic Court were withdrawn by the Supreme Court this year.
The outcome of disciplinary proceedings could affect the former judges' pensions.
O'Neill, the Municipal Court judge, was described as a friend of Tynes' who appeared before her in August 2011, appealing a ticket from a red-light camera citation.
An unidentified court officer told Chadwick that the court's then-director of operations, William Hird, came into Tynes' courtroom and asked that Tynes provide special consideration for O'Neill's case, in spite of three photographs showing the car proceeding through a red light.
"Judge Tynes then walked the judge through a series of leading questions designed to elicit responses that would support a reversal" before reversing O'Neill's conviction, Chadwick's report said.
Efforts to contact O'Neill were unsuccessful. An aide in his Municipal Court chambers said the judge was recuperating from surgery.
Chadwick's report described McCaffery meeting Hird in July 2010 in the parking lot outside Traffic Court's building at Eighth and Spring Garden Streers while the justice's wife, Lise Rapaport, contested her ticket for driving the wrong way on a one-way street before Hogeland. She was acquitted.
McCaffery told The Inquirer last week that he called Hird to suggest that the case be assigned to an out-of-county judge because a city judge might know of their marriage and be put in a "bad position."
In retrospect, he said, it would have been better for his wife to hire a lawyer to contact court officials.
Inquirer staff writers Craig R. McCoy and Robert Moran contributed to this article.