Monday, February 8, 2016

Will Pa. courts finally free Willie Singletary?

The third unofficial strike against Willie F. Singletary, if proven, should be enough to rid Philadelphia Traffic Court of the man who may be Exhibit A for reform.

Will Pa. courts finally free Willie Singletary?

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Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary.  (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)
Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)

The third unofficial strike against Willie F. Singletary, if proven, should be enough to rid Philadelphia Traffic Court of the man who may be Exhibit A for reform.

Singletary, 29, was unceremoniously escorted out of court last week over an allegation that he had displayed a photo of his genitals to a female court staffer. That is not what is meant in legal circles when someone asks to see your briefs.

There’s actually nothing funny about such behavior. It would amount to sexual harassment and, if founded, would be cause for Singletary’s overdue removal from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s judicial-discipline arm.

Then again, Singletary isn’t even a lawyer, and the post that pays him around $83,000 a year doesn’t so much as call for a law degree. In fact, it was his lack of legal training that got the young judge out of an earlier scrape with the judicial police.

Brought up on disciplinary charges related to a pitch for campaign donations in 2007 — during which he suggested that he would give donors special consideration in court — Singletary got a huge break with only a reprimand and probation. The state Court of Judicial Discipline’s reasoning was that Singletary wasn’t a judge yet, and therefore he didn’t know any better.

Prior to his election, it could at least be said that Singletary had studied the workings of the court closely: He had amassed $11,500 in traffic fines, which means that his driver’s license was suspended for most of the time he sat in judgment of other motorists.

Beyond suggesting an ability to empathize with the plight of drivers in similar straits, Singletary’s resumé hardly stands as an endorsement for Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges. It’s also a condemnation of the vetting process of the city’s dominant Democratic Party, to which many judicial candidates must pay fealty — and a hefty donation — for its help on Election Day.

If Singletary’s hoped-for departure from the bench is in the offing, it couldn’t come at a more appropriate moment for Traffic Court. Just last week, the state Supreme Court — decrying “an ingrained culture” in which the well-connected may be able to get tickets fixed — inaugurated a much-needed shake-up of court leadership. The whole place may need a housecleaning, and Singletary’s alleged conduct has no place in a reformed court.

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