Philadelphia Traffic Court – Where Law Goes to Die


From my friends at Philly Law Blog comes the Chadwick Report, covering all the slime that lurks within Philadelphia’s most-hated court.

The Inky last weekend offered an eye-popping synopsis of what goes down on Spring Garden street.

The Chadwick Report, after the jump.

In a nutshell–nearly the entire bench has been sucked into corruption revolving around ticket-fixing.   Cliché in its own right, the rampancy of ticket-fixing is a barometer of how corrupt your local government may be.

In Philadelphia, fixing is so common that the practice itself is centralized and computerized.

Why is the dispensation of justice so horrible at Traffic Court?   It’s primarily because the folks who serve on the bench are not required to practice law, or know anything about law, much less have any legal experience whatsoever.

Traffic Court is among a class of courts known as minor courts.  They sit at the bottom-most rung in the judicial system.  Magisterial Courts, Traffic Courts, and Community Courts fall into this category.   Traffic Court judges in Pennsylvania are part and parcel the same as Magisterial District Court judges.   Magistrate courts are the most minor courts in the Pennsylvania judicial system and deal with petty offenses.  In the counties outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, it’s usually a magistrate court that oversees traffic violations.

Magistrate court judges do not have to be lawyers.   If a non-lawyer is elected as a magistrate judge, after being seated on the bench the judge must attend certification classes.

Wonderful people like Judge Singletary easily got his certification, the first judge in United States history to have a state supreme court reach for the words “judicial penis” when describing his behavior while on the job.  It’s fairly clear that certification is merely just ceremony meant to keep only those who are dead or in a coma from dispensing justice.

Where do these idiots come from that sit on the bench?

That’s probably the million dollar question that very few Philadelphians know the answer to.    In the primaries, anyone who is over 18 and can breathe oxygen can toss their name into a pool for the Philadelphia Democratic Primary and Republican Primary for traffic court.

The requirement to run for Traffic Court is just 1,000 signatures and Democrats or Republicans can nominate the same judge.

Once you can get through the filing process, the real election is random.   Whoever gets listed at the top of the ballot on the voting machine will always win the most votes for Traffic Court judge.   Philadelphians never know who any of the people are that are running in this dog house, so when lots are drawn to determine what order the judges are listed on the ballot, the judges who make it to the top of the list always receive the most votes.

Voters can only push so many buttons on the voting machine for the Traffic Court race, and the top winners in the race win whatever seats on the bench that are available.

Judge Singletary, who showed pictures of his “judicial penis” to a Traffic Court staff employee, won his seat on the bench merely by being listed first.   Not withstanding that he had over $10,000 in fines and his driver’s license was revoked when he won election.

With a body of judges that are mainly political hacks and inexperienced do-nothings who are easily swayed by smarter pols asking traffic tickets for friends and family and political connections be expunged, do you think the way we elect our judges has something to do with it?

Luckily, serious traffic charges are not sent to Traffic Court, like DUIs.   These cases go to Philadelphia Municipal Court, where the standards are a little bit higher to serve on the bench, like being an attorney with a Pennsylvania law license who has some semblance of jurisprudence.