Last week's indictments of Philly Traffic Court judges and their lackeys sent Jon Berger smiling down memory lane.
Berger works in the IT side of Berger & Montague. P.C., the law firm founded by his late father, David Berger, who served as city solicitor under Mayor Richardson Dilworth from 1956 to 1963. Dilworth was hell-bent on cleaning the sleaze out of Traffic Court. Yes, even back then the black hole on Spring Garden St. was a den of insider favoritism that made chumps of the law-abiding.
Someone remind me: Why does this court exist?
Anyway, Jon Berger says, only two days after Dilworth announced a sweeping plan to deal with Traffic Court, Berger's lead-foot mom, Harriett, got a ticket for speeding her old gray Plymouth-with-the-stick-shift along East River Drive (now known as Kelly Drive). His dad was so worried she might get favorable treatment at Traffic Court, he sent an assistant city solicitor to the court to make sure she got convicted.
"We discussed it at the dinner table," recalls Jon Berger. "My mother was absolutely guilty. My dad wanted her to pay the fine and be done with it. He knew there couldn't even be the appearance of impropriety" if anything other than a guilty verdict reigned.
"My dad was of the 'great generation,'" he continues, describing him as a moral, upright and decorated World War II vet who met Dilworth in New Caledonia while both served in the Marines in the South Pacific. "My dad saw this handsome colonel sitting outside a tent, reading a stack of Inquirers, and he said to him, 'What's a guy from Philly doing in a place like this?'"
Thus commenced a friendship that included a vow that, should they survive the war and make it home, to end cronyism in the town that inspired and infuriated them. When Dilworth eventually was elected Philly's 91st mayor, he appointed David Berger city solicitor, a position he used to bring post-war revival and urban renewal to Philly (to quote the obit that praised Berger, after his death).
It's been six years since the elder Berger passed. But the story of that un-fixed ticket has remained part of Berger family lore, says Jon Berger.
"My dad was adamant," he says. "He would've sent the National Guard to Traffic Court to make sure my mother was convicted."