Indicted Traffic Court judges seek dismissal of charges

The Philadelphia Traffic Court Building on 8th and Spring Garden Streets on Thursday, January 31, 2013. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )

Nine defendants accused in a massive ticket-fixing scheme in Philadelphia Traffic Court asked a federal judge this morning to dismiss the charges, claiming the alleged practice is not a crime.

Henry Hockeimer Jr., attorney for former Traffic Court Administrative Judge Michael Sullivan, told U.S. District Judge Robert Kelly the federal case is built on the prospect of money the city might have collected if traffic ticket holders were found guilty by the judges.  But no fine exists until that guilty verdict, he said. 

"It can't be speculative," Hockeimer said. "In this case, stuff has to happen. There has to be a hearing. There has to be an adjudication by a judge."

Hockeimer noted that some of the cases cited in the Jan. 31 indictment included findings of guilt by Traffic Court judges for ticket holders.  He also said the defendants are not accused of taking any "bribes or kickbacks."

Prosecutors said the scheme was based on political favors for connected people in the city.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek dismissed Hockeimer's claims, using an old legal saying about a child who kills both of his parents and then pleads for mercy in court because he is an orphan.

Wzorek said the investigation cited "174 overt acts" by six judges, one court official and two businessmen to fix tickets in a secretive process that often included speaking in code. He cited legal precedents, saying they say such prosecutions "punish the scheme, not its success."

Kelly told the attorneys he will rule promptly on matter.

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

Gov. Corbett last week signed into law a measure to remove from the Nov. 5 general election three vacant Traffic Court seats, as part of a larger push to eliminate the agency and fold its duties into Philadelphia Municipal Court.  Traffic cases there would be heard by appointed hearing examiners.