Abolish or reform Traffic Court? State House hears both sides

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer on Friday told the state House Judiciary Committee he was surprised at the "seemingly insatiable demand" for ticket fixing as political favors at Traffic Court, even after the state Supreme Court put him in charge there in December 2011 when it became clear the FBI was investigating.

Once, a ward leader called Glazer's office, asking for a message to be passed to a Traffic Court judge about a friend with a ticket.  "How does that help me," the ward leader later asked when told the message went instead to Glazer.  Another judge was caught setting up a "favorable" payment plan for a cousin living in Florida. That "caper," as Glazer called it, included a forged letter as evidence.

"I shudder to think what I missed during my tenure at the court," said Glazer, who still has oversight there. "These are just two of the examples I stumbled upon by chance."

The committee is considering two bills passed unanimously by the state Senate in February, shortly after nine current or former Traffic Court judges were charged with federal crimes in a wide-spread ticket fixing scheme.

The first bill would eliminate three vacant Traffic Court seats on the ballot this year.  The second would abolish Traffic Court and fold its duties into Municipal Court, where appointed hearing examiners would handle cases.  The second bill requires a statewide ballot referendum.

Glazer testified in support of those measures.  He noted that corruption is a "long-standing" problem at Traffic Court. "I don't know how you're going to get rid of that unless you drastically change the system," Glazer said.

A trio of state House members from Philadelphia -- Ron Waters, Mark Cohen and Curtis Thomas -- said in testimony that they oppose the Senate bills while recognizing problems at Traffic Court.  "The court should be fixed, not destroyed," Waters said while deploring the "antics" of the indicted judges.

Thomas has offered competing legislation that would raise the standards of Traffic Court, having hearing examiners overseen by a judge.  He noted that Traffic Court judges currently don't need to have a high school diploma to win a seat in an election.

Cohen railed against what he described as a shrinking number of elected officials in the city.

State Rep. Ronald Marsico, chairman of the committee, said he expected the Senate bills to be considered for a vote in the first week of May.