The Philadelphia courts' long-standing failure to ensure that drug convicts' driver's licenses were suspended illustrates the danger of government by ward heelers. It also reminds us that professional bureaucrats can botch the job just as badly.
The Inquirer reported this week that for at least a decade, the city courts did not report drug convictions to the state Department of Transportation as required by law. That means tens of thousands of license suspensions that should have taken place did not, sometimes leaving dangerous drivers on the road. One man arrested with crack cocaine and PCP in his car in 2011, having kept his license due to court negligence, was driving drunk weeks later when he caused a crash that killed a man.
The courts' massive oversight dates to the star-crossed tenure of Vivian T. Miller, who held the obscure elected office of clerk of quarter sessions until 2010, when it was abolished due to mishandling of public funds. But the court workers who absorbed Miller's duties continued to neglect the task until The Inquirer raised the issue this year. And state officials inexplicably failed to notice that the city was reporting very few drug convictions even as neighboring counties were reporting thousands a year.
One could argue that license suspensions aren't appropriate for every minor drug offense, but there doesn't appear to have been a policy objection here. Rather, as one court official put it, the job "kind of fell through the cracks."
It's a yawning chasm indeed that could swallow a legally required, easily accomplished court function for so long. Administrative Judge John Herron rightly acknowledged the troubling impression of gross ineptitude. He should see to it that it's an anomaly.