Pennsylvania Senate advances plan to close Philly Traffic Court
February 11, 2013By Mary Wilson
It's looking like all green lights for two Pennsylvania Senate proposals to phase out the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
After committee approval, the bills are headed for votes in the full chamber.
The panel vote comes less than two weeks after federal indictments of nine elected Traffic Court judges and three suspects on charges of taking part in a ticket-fixing scandal.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has offered one measure to scrub the Traffic Court from the state Constitution.
His other bill would phase out the court -- whether the lengthy constitutional amendment process is successful of fails.
Pileggi, R-Delaware, says the second bill would reduce the number of Traffic Court judges and bring them under the supervision of Philadelphia's Municipal Court, eventually switching to a traffic division staffed entirely by Municipal Court judges.
"One of the key distinctions between the Municipal Court judges and the Traffic Court judges, of course, is that the Municipal Court judges must be attorneys licensed in the commonwealth," Pileggi said Monday. "The Traffic Court judges need not be."
Senate Democrats support the legislation to eliminate it. Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia says eliminating the Traffic Court is the first step in what should be a sustained effort to clean up the judicial branch in Pennsylvania.
"If people think that Philadelphia Traffic Court is the only place someone may walk in and magistrate may give some kind of favoritism to based upon your affiliation, then there are actually green men on Mars," Williams said.
Philadelphia is the only county with a separate Traffic Court, but Williams says the issue of corrupt court employees and district judges is hardly unique to Philadelphia – though he wouldn't be specific.
"We're the first guys ponying up and saying we're willing to fix ours," he said.
An investigative report commissioned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found a culture of dysfunction and favoritism at the court.