State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, D-181, has introduced legislation that would reform Philadelphia Traffic Court in the wake of numerous charges of judicial misconduct recently brought against the body.
The latest scandal to hit the embattled court was the indictment earlier this year of nine former and current Traffic Court judges in connection with a wide-ranging ticket fixing scheme.
"I am as angry as the state Supreme Court and others about the state of affairs at Traffic Court under both Democrat and Republican administrations," Thomas said in a statement. He wants to change the Traffic Court from its current seven judge makeup to a court presided over by one president judge and six masters.
"Traffic Court sees a high volume of cases annually and is one of the minor courts in the First Judicial District. However, it is not presided over by lawyers, but by individuals who are elected and can pass a qualifying exam. Under current law, there are no educational requirements to serve as a traffic court judge. One needs only to be 21 years of age, live in Philadelphia and mount a successful campaign to secure the position that wields some degree of authority."
Thomas' proposal would mandate that Traffic Court masters be residents of Philadelphia for at least four years before running for election and that they pass a certification examination and meet minimum ethics training requirements. Thomas also wants masters to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, no outstanding parking or moving violations, a valid driver’s license and no prior convictions of criminal offenses higher than a summary.
Thomas' legislation would further strip Traffic Court of its power, allowing masters only to conduct hearings, then present their to the Municipal Court for further action.
"There is no need to destroy Traffic Court because of a history of corruption," Thomas said. "My proposal would streamline all cases before Traffic Court without placing an undue burden upon Municipal Court. It would continue as an administrative court with final conclusions of law being made by Municipal Court. Hopefully this would address allegations of judges making and accepting third-party requests for preferential treatment."
Unlike other proposals introduced in the Senate – which include a bill introduced by Senator Dominic Pileggi that would dismantle Traffic Court altogether – Thomas’ proposed legislation does not require a constitutional amendment and could be enacted during the present two-year legislative session. Pileggi's bill, should it become law, would not be enforced until 2015.