As the court crier for a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, Tanya Muskelley spent years listening to tales of woe from drivers who appeared before her boss.
On Friday, Muskelley, 48, herself became one of those tales, surrendering to begin a three- to six-month prison term for drunken driving in a 2012 accident that killed a Northeast Philadelphia woman.
It could have been worse. Muskelley had been charged with vehicular homicide while driving under the influence in the May 3, 2012, crash that killed Brittney Dixon, 20, as she crossed Roosevelt Boulevard at Cottman Avenue.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb said that 2½ hours after the accident, testing showed Muskelley had a blood-alcohol level of .201, which is 2½ times the legal threshold of driving drunk.
But the facts of the case were problematic. Lipscomb said that Dixon was hit crossing against a red light and that Muskelley was driving behind a large truck when she hit Dixon in the crosswalk.
And the trial was delayed until May because of an evidentiary dispute. A Common Pleas Court judge had ruled that the prosecution could not use as evidence alcohol-safety driving materials discovered after police obtained a warrant and searched the trunk of Muskelley’s car. The materials were from a prior drunken driving arrest for which she entered a pretrial diversion program. Superior Court affirmed the Philadelphia judge’s ruling.
On May 30, a Common Pleas Court jury returned a guilty verdict on the charge of driving under the influence but acquitted Muskelley on three homicide counts.
On Aug. 11, Judge Diana L. Anhalt sentenced Muskelley to the maximum — three to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine — but gave her a week to surrender.
Muskelley was taken into custody Friday morning after she returned to Courtroom 807 in the Criminal Justice Center. In addition to the prison term and fine, the judge suspended Muskelley’s driver’s license for a year and ordered her to attend alcohol highway safety classes.
“From the start, she was guilt-ridden that she was involved in an accident that took the life of another person,” said defense attorney James A. Funt. “She tried to send flowers and to reach out. … and now she’ll pay the price.”
It also cost Muskelley her job. After her arrest in Dixon’s death, she was fired from the $44,600-a-year job she had held since 2004.
Court criers are charged with opening and closing court sessions, assembling daily case files, and helping to maintain order. The job has evolved over the years, but by tradition many court criers in Pennsylvania still say, “Oyez, oyez. All manner of persons who have any thing to do before the honorable judges of the court here holden this day, let them come forward, and they shall be heard.” These days, some criers just say: “All rise, court is now in session, the Honorable [insert name here] presiding.”
In 2012, Muskelley was mentioned in a state Supreme Court-commissioned investigatory report by lawyer William G. Chadwick about ticket fixing and other improper conduct in Traffic Court.
A section of the report dealing with Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew reported that Mulgrew’s personal aide, Gloria McNasby, and Muskelley “denied or minimized” Mulgrew’s giving “special consideration” to politically connected individuals with cases in Traffic Court.
Other witnesses and documents proved otherwise, Chadwick wrote, adding that “no employee other than [McNasby and Muskelley] said that Judge Mulgrew did not participate in the practice.”
Mulgrew and three other Traffic Court judges subsequently were indicted by a federal grand jury and in 2014 convicted of lying to the grand jury or FBI agents. Mulgrew, now 60, is serving an 18-month prison term in the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix.
In 2013, the legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett abolished Traffic Court, replaced the judges, and merged the court’s caseload into the city’s regular judicial system.