Philadelphia Metropolis


His Guys, His Game

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There are two possible explanations why nine judges on Philadelphia's Traffic Court allegedly engaged in widespread ticket fixing, outlined in great detail in indictments of handed down last week by a federal grand jury.

One is that the judges, sitting around over coffee and donuts one day, decided amongst themselves to give "considerations" to certain defendants based upon their political and personal pedigrees.  In other words, it was a conspiracy hatched by and limited to those involved.

The other explanation is that these judges weren't independent actors at all. They were cogs in a larger machine. They were elected to their positions because  they were expected -- as part of the job description -- to fix tickets.  Under this theory, they were a small part of a corrupt enterprise otherwise known as the Democratic political organization.

If you believe the first explanation is plausible, then you must be from out of town. Maybe Kansas? Maybe a small farm in mid-state?

We Philadelphians know these judges were part of the political machine.  In fact, many of them were ward leaders or relatives and protégés of ward leaders who were handpicked by the party to run.  And because voters don't have a clue who they are -- and probably what a traffic court judge does -- the organization usually gets its candidates elected.

They are not picked for these jobs because of their legal perspicacity.  In fact, traffic court judges don't have to be lawyers. It's their political pedigree that counts.

This is another way of saying that what happened in Traffic Court wasn't an aberration or  flaw in the system.  What happened in Traffic Court was the system.  By granting "considerations" to "requestors," these judges were just doing what they were sent to do.

Which raises this question: What is Bob Brady's role in this scandal?

Brady is a congressman, of course.  But he is also chairs of the Democratic City Committee, the party group that recruits and endorses candidates.

If every judge on the court -- most of whom were handpicked by the party -- were in on the scheme, doesn't it stand to reason that Brady and other party leaders were too?

Didn't they know that the purpose of getting these folks elected was to advance and perpetuate the system of fixing tickets? 

In my wildest imagination, I cannot imagine Brady reading about the indictments in the paper, slapping his forehead, and saying: "What? I can't believe it!  They were fixing tickets!"

Give me a break.

I don't know what the outcome of the cases against the Traffic Court judges will be -- though from reading the indictments it looks like the feds have it nailed down.  There is no allegation the judges took money for fixing cases.  Instead, they are charged -- in effect -- with malfeasance. By going down on so many cases, they deprived the Commonwealth and the city of the funds they would have received from the fines and fees collected.

Depending upon the outcome of the cases involving the 12 defendants -- nine judges and three Traffic Court employees -- the feds consider following the case up the ladder.

 Why court martial the captains and not touch the generals?

But that's a bridge too far.  A more salient question -- to be asked of  the political establishment in the city -- is why should Brady remain as chair of the City Committee?

These judges were picked and elected on his watch.  They have brought disgrace down upon themselves and their institution.  Instead of dispensing justice, they were dispensing deals.

Shouldn't Brady he held accountable, too, at least initially as a political leader?

These were his guys.  This was his game.

-- Tom Ferrick



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