Three years after Philadelphia Traffic Court was raided by the FBI and just days before a federal trial for former traffic court judges accused of ticket-fixing begins, city officials announced how they will fix the court.
"This court will rise from the ashes of a tainted system and provide true justice here in the city of Philadelphia," declared Mayor Michael Nutter at a press conference Monday.
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The announcement came days before jury selections are scheduled to begin for six former Traffic Court judges alleged to have dismissed tickets or moving violations for politically or socially connected individuals, as well as two businessmen also charged with Traffic Court-related fraud.
"This court was operated with two tracks in dispensing justice -- one for the connected and one for everyone else. It is a system that had to die. It must go away," Nutter said. "No longer will politically or otherwise connected defendants be able to rely on 'special consideration'. There will be no 'nodding and winking' from court officials."
Prosecutors from D.A. Seth William's office will be assigned to the Traffic Division of Municipal Court and will handle cases for individuals charged with repeat violations . Paralegals from the D.A.'s Office will handle other cases. Municipal court judges and trained hearing officers will preside over the cases.
Previously, judges elected to Traffic Court seats oversaw contested ticket cases presented by police officers who acted as both "witness and prosecutor," as D.A. Seth Williams put it.
"This change is absolutely stunning and dramatic," saidMunicipal Court Judge Gary Glazer, who was assigned to preside over the Traffic Division after the 2011 raids.
"We have been struggling for the past close to three years to change the culture - to change practices that had been so ingrained in the court that most people who worked there thought this was really how you did business, that this was a normal way of operation."
Last year state officials passed legislation which officially closed Traffic Court and shifted its operations into the Municipal Court Traffic Division, which has handled all tickets and moving violations since the FBI raids.
Three Traffic Court judges and one court administrator charged with fraud in this case previously pled guilty.
The reorganization is expected to cost about $800,000 in funding, which is pending the approval of City Council.