Federal judge rejects move by Traffic Court judges to dismiss charges

Philadelphia Traffic Court at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets was in session Thursday, but some of the judges hearing cases were from out of town. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

A federal judge has rejected what he called the "circular" legal logic behind a request from five former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges to dismiss criminal charges filed against them on Jan. 31 in what prosecutors called a widespread scheme to fix tickets at political favors.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kelly ruled Monday that the case will go forward, rejecting the request from former Traffic Court Administrative Judge Michael Sullivan after hearing arguments on the motion last week.

Sullivan's attorney, Henry Hockeimer Jr., had argued that the federal case was built on the prospect of money the city and state might have collected if traffic ticket holders were found guilty by the judges.  But no fine exists without a guilty finding, he said, so no federal crime had been committed.

"To accept the defendants' argument would permit the alleged conspirators in this case to enter into a scheme to commit fraud and then hide behind the argument that the success of their fraud precludes prosecution under the 'money or property interest' requirement of the mail and wire fraud statues," Kelly wrote in a 19-page ruling.

Sullivan's motion was joined by former Traffic Court judges Michael Lowry, Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary and Mark Bruno. Former Traffic Court director of Operations Bill Hird and businessmen Henry Alfano and Robert Moy also joined the motion.  Retired Traffic Court President Judge Thomasine Tynes filed a separate motion to dismiss the charges.

Three other former Traffic Court judges, including retired Administrative Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., have already pleaded guilty to fixing tickets.

Gov. Corbett signed into law two weeks ago legislation that will eventually disband Traffic Court and assign those duties to Philadelphia Municipal Court, where traffic ticket cases will be heard by appointed hearing examiners.