Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Philadelphia lawmaker bids to save Traffic Court

State Rep. Curtis Thomas would turn six judges into "masters," leaving Municipal Court to decide if drivers are guilty of moving violations.

A Philadelphia lawmaker bids to save Traffic Court

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At least one Philadelphia lawmaker – state Rep. W. Curtis Thomas – is making a bid to save Philadelphia Traffic Court.

Thomas announced a proposal today to turn six Traffic Court judgeships into court masters, who would conduct fact-finding hearings on alleged traffic violations but leave it to a Municipal Court judge to determine whether a driver is guilty or not.

Thomas said he was as angry as anyone else about the Traffic Court’s ongoing corruption problems ­– most recently, the federal indictment of nine  current and former judges for alleged fraud and conspiracy in a massive ticket-fixing operation.

“It’s a mess over there and we gotta clean it up,” Thomas said in a telephone interview.

But he disagreed, he said, with a Republican-sponsored bill to abolish the court and turn its duties over to Municipal Court. “That would blow up the whole house in order to clean it up,” Thomas said.  “Municipal Court is already trying to cut down on its backlog of cases.”

His proposal would also establish some minimal qualifications for the new masters: a bachelor’s degree from college, no outstanding parking or moving violations, a valid driver’s licenses and no criminal convictions higher than a summary offense.

A Senate-passed bill to abolish the court is scheduled for a March 22 hearing by the House Judiciary Committee.  While the court’s fate remains uncertain, 41 candidates have filed petitions to go after Traffic Court judgeships in the May 21 primary election.  The jobs – if they survive – will pay $91,000 a year for six-year terms.  

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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