For three weeks, the state Supreme Court has had a scathing report on ticket-fixing in Philadelphia Traffic Court, so why haven't the justices, who have authority over the lower court, said what they will do about it?
At the very least, those judges who admitted to investigators that they fixed tickets for anyone politically savvy enough to call a ward leader or an elected official's office should be suspended. Their caseloads could be picked up by Municipal Court.
Beyond that, it's time to screen candidates who want to be Traffic Court judges based on their abilities and integrity, rather than their fealty to Philadelphia's dominant Democratic Party, which has shown little or no interest in putting forth decent candidates.
Traffic Court judges don't have to be lawyers, but the Supreme Court could make the test that applicants take to become judges so difficult that only someone with a strong knowledge of the law could pass.
For lasting reform, the court should institutionalize ethics training, set up a complaint hotline so corrupt practices can be reported to law enforcement, and insist on constant oversight to end the culture of favors for the families and friends of politicians and court employees.
Perhaps the court is silent because of the embarrassment to Justice Seamus McCaffery, who the report said met with a court official to discuss a ticket his wife received, which was dismissed. The stakes are too high to let that stop the high court. If McCaffery wants to deflect suspicion, he should lead the reform charge.
The report said McCaffery told investigators he was only trying to make sure a judge from outside of Philadelphia would hear his wife's case to avoid any conflict of interest. But he was elected statewide, so, by his reasoning, any judge in Pennsylvania might have a conflict. Besides, McCaffery knows full well that requests for recusal are made in courthouses, not a parking area.
The FBI, which raided Traffic Court in September 2011, is conducting a criminal investigation. That may ultimately solve some of the court's problems by punishing those who have put their own political ambitions ahead of the public's right to fair treatment.
But it's not the FBI's job to reform Traffic Court; it's the Supreme Court's. That deliberative body need not act in haste, but three weeks is plenty of time to reassure the public that the report won't just gather dust. It may be too early for specific recommendations, but not to say changes will be made. The court's silence further erodes confidence in Pennsylvania's judicial system.