Traffic court judge accused of showing lewd photo to employee
The attorney representing Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, who allegedly showed a photo of his genitals to a female employee, said he does not know why Singletary has been barred from entering the Traffic Court’s building on Spring Garden Street.
“I know what the rumors are,” said attorney William J. Brennan. “But, unlike a criminal case or civil case where they must serve a complaint … the administrative judges served certain memoranda on Judge Singletary and the memoranda tell him what he can and can’t do. But, we’ve seen no documentation indicating the basis for this action.”
According to reports published earlier this week, Singletary was ordered by Administrative Judge Gary S. Glazer to stay away from court after he showed photos of his genitalia to a female employee.
Brennan acknowledged that Singletary had been barred from the Traffic Court building. He declined to discuss the published allegation.
“I would be very foolish to comment on rumor or innuendo,” Brennan said. “If and when a complaint is filed I will respond accordingly.”
Sheriff’s deputies escorted Singletary from the building Dec. 22 after Glazer relieved him of his judicial duties. Brennan said Singletary is staying away from court while he reviews his options.
According to published reports, Singletary last week showed a photo of his penis to a female information technology worker. She reportedly filed a sexual-harassment complaint, which Singletary allegedly tried to block by confronting her in an attempt to force her to withdraw it.
Singletary can only be removed by the state Supreme Court or the Court of Judicial Discipline, so he remains an elected judge and continues to collect his $85,000 annual salary.
“He is still an elected judge,” said Brennan.
Glazer has recommended that the Supreme Court suspend Singletary and a complaint has been filed with the Court of Judicial Discipline.
Singletary’s suspension was Glazer’s first public act as administrative judge. Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille appointed Glazer last week to oversee Traffic Court operations as the state Supreme Court conducts an investigation into allegations of widespread corruption. The FBI is also investigating the court, looking into allegations that judges took bribes or accepted political favors for fixing tickets.
Singletary, 29, has been a controversial figure even before he was elected to traffic court, a seat he won in 2007. During his run, he was filmed at a campaign rally suggesting that campaign contributors would get special treatment when he was elected.
He received a reprimand from the state Court of Judicial Discipline for his remarks. But, the judges noted, in their 2009 censure, that he was not a lawyer, and had not been an elected judge when he made the comments.
Before that, he came under scrutiny because he owed approximately $11,500 for dozens of unpaid traffic tickets. The mass of violations led to the suspension of his driver’s license, which was restored just this year.
A Navy veteran, Singletary is also a pastor and established the City of Refuge Church in West Philadelphia. He served in the Persian Gulf during the invasion of Afghanistan.
The charges against Singletary are unrelated to the FBI investigation into allegations of longstanding and widespread corruption in traffic court that has so far drawn scrutiny of three court officials: Sullivan, former traffic court Judge Fortunato Perri and former director of operations William Hird.
In an effort to end corruption so pervasive “that it has become institutionalized,” state Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille removed traffic court Judge Michael J. Sullivan as administrative judge on Monday and replaced him with Judge Gary S. Glazer.
Castille said the decision to remove Sullivan was based on the fact that the FBI has been investigating Sullivan and several other traffic court officials for several months.
“This was more of a reaction to the FBI and certain search warrants in traffic court,” Castille said, in an announcement from the Supreme Court courtroom at City Hall. “It’s a reflection of the First Judicial District that this is, as we have seen, an ingrained culture in traffic court of adjusting these tickets and not really giving the citizens, or the city, a fair shake.”
Sullivan will remain on the bench and continue to collect his $86,496 annual salary, but he will now have to answer to Glazer, who was appointed Administrative Judge of Traffic Court — Sullivan’s old title, which gives Glazer authority over “all judges in traffic court in the exercise of their jurisdiction.”
In addition, Glazer will keep an eye on Sullivan, specifically.
“He’ll be closely supervised by Judge Glazer,” Castille said.
It would take judicial impeachment, further action by the state Supreme Court or removal by the Judicial Conduct Board to oust Sullivan from his seat — something that appeared unlikely until an internal court review or the FBI’s investigation is concluded.
“We’ll see what our reviews bring out,” Castille said.
The Chief Justice said he could not comment on whether bribes or favors were exchanged for “adjustments” to tickets.
“We’re still in the process of seeing what happened,” he said. “I’m sure the FBI will enlighten us as to details.”
Regardless, Castille said, the allegations damage the integrity of the court: “The practice of accepting ex parte requests for favorable treatment exposes the court to the enormous risk of money changing hands in return for favors.”
It also deprives the city and state of needed revenue at a time when budgets for both are tightening, he said.
The FBI is conducting an investigation into allegations of longstanding and widespread corruption in traffic court that has so far drawn scrutiny of three court officials: Sullivan, former traffic court Judge Fortunato Perri, and former director of operations William Hird.
In addition to searching the men’s homes and offices over the summer and early fall, the feds conducted raids at two bars associated with the trio — the Cannonball Tavern in Bridesburg, and the Fireside Tavern in South Philadelphia.
The court’s actions, including an internal investigation, were distinct from the federal investigation, which Castille said must be kept separate. FBI officials had no comment on the case on Monday.
Everyone from employees to judges are expected to cooperate, Castille said. Anyone who fails to do so — from clerks to judges — would be subject to sanctions, including loss of employment.
Glazer said he was confident that he could change the culture of the court in time.
“We have to change the way they think,” he said. “And, that’s going to take some time.”
Sullivan, who has served six years on the bench, was retained in the November election and will be sworn in for his second term in January. He won despite the fact that the Philadelphia Bar Association did not recommend him, and the FBI raids came about six weeks prior to the election.
“I don’t know how many people that voted for Judge Sullivan knew that the FBI had raided his home and office,” Castille said, adding that voters are often unfamiliar with judicial candidates.
“People generally don’t know who they’re voting for,” he said. “It’s really controlled by the party.”
Traffic court President Judge Thomasine Tynes could not be reached for comment by Tribune press time on Monday.
Traffic court, which last year processed about 170,000 tickets, has been mired in corruption allegations since at least 1984, when an independent judge was first installed to root out judicial misconduct. Similar charges have surfaced periodically ever since. In August 2010, the FBI raided traffic court Judge Robert Mulgrew’s home as part of an investigation into the collection and spending of campaign funds. No charges were filed and Mulgrew remains on the bench.
Traffic ticket-fixing has always been suspected in Philadelphia, but with the release of an investigative report commissioned by Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, what has been suspected was dragged out into a glaring spotlight.
At least 10 sitting or former Traffic Court judges could face disciplinary actions for their connection to what could be termed as an internal system of traffic ticket -fixing. The report details an alleged behind-the-chambers culture that turned a blind eye to the infractions of the well-heeled politically connected crowd, but enforced the laws vigorously when it came to the less fortunate.
The list of red-flagged judges named in the report includes state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, retired Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, Municipal Court Judge Joseph O’Neill Sr., former Judge Willie Singletary, who was already under investigation for allegedly sending explicit photos of himself to a staff member, and retired Judge Bernice DeAngelis.
The study conducted by Chadwick Associates, Inc. found that the judges named in the study “routinely made, accepted and granted third-party requests for preferential treatment for politically connected individuals.”
“In some cases, judges granted preferential treatment to violators whose identities or connections they knew even if no expressed request was made,” wrote William G. Chadwick in the report’s overview, which was sent to Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer on Nov. 19. “These practices violated established standards of conduct for the minor judiciary, and resulted in a court with a two-track system of justice; one for the politically connected and another for the unwitting general public. These practices were facilitated via ex parte communications among judges, their personal aides and court criers, administrative employees of the court and politically active individuals outside the court.”
According to the report, Judges Michael Sullivan and Christine Solomon declined to be interviewed for the study. Judge Michael Lowry, on the other hand, cooperated and not only admitted to his participation in the system of preferential treatment, but implicated colleagues. Also named in the report were the offices of state Sen. Mike Stack, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who were allegedly frequent requestors of special treatment but were not interviewed for the report.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Brady regarding the allegations. “Neither my staff members or myself have ever requested any kind of special privileges in Traffic Court. What we do if any staff member is ticketed for a violation is provide an attorney who is present with them at the hearing. I take issue with a court employee mentioning my name and having my name included in the report. We have attorneys who do this work pro bono. No one on my staff ever contacted any judge to ask for special privileges – and you can rest assured that we are looking into this. Also, no one conducting this study ever spoke to me. In fact, I was ticketed for running a red light in 2010 after leaving a meeting with Mayor Nutter at City Hall. The traffic light camera snapped a picture of my car and an officer flagged me down and gave me a ticket, which I paid. I still have the stub. I find this very disturbing.”
According to the report, requests for special consideration were made either to the judges directly, personal staff members or court criers. Interviewers allege that the system for accessing preferential treatment was partially centralized four years ago when William Hird, former director of courtroom operations, began acting as the point man for the requests. Chadwick’s interviewers said Hird would take phone calls about a particular case, access the computer files, print the court dockets and make handwritten notes on the sheet which was then delivered to the judge hearing the case.
“The special consideration granted by judges ranged from outright acquittals and dismissals to amendments of the citation downgrading the offense to a charge carrying fewer demerit points on the offender’s driving record,” Chadwick said in the report, stating that 22 employees admitted to having knowledge of the practice. “Some personals questioned whether the requests affected the outcomes of the cases, citing the broad discretion that judges have in making decisions. In addition, neither Judge Warren Hogeland nor Lowry, both of whom admitted participating in the practice, could identify a single judge who did not participate. They both related that DeAngelis, who was the administrative judge when they first sat in Traffic Court, discussed the practice with them and led them to believe their participation was expected. Judge Bob Mulgrew was less forthcoming but conceded that special consideration was a part of the culture at Traffic Court.”
Chadwick said in the report that his office’s review was able to identify 18 cases with a total of 26 tickets either involving Traffic Court employees or their family members with cases handled by Tynes, who retired from the bench on July 3, 2012 following a medical leave of absence. The report cited a particular case involving a judge from another court who allegedly ran a red light and was recorded by a traffic light camera.
“The evidence included three photographs clearly showing the car proceeding through a red light,” Chadwick wrote. “Hird came in to the courtroom and requested that Judge Tynes give the judge special consideration. Judge Tynes then walked the judge through a series of leading questions designed to elicit responses that would support a reversal. Following the hearing in which the conviction was reversed, Hird greeted the violator outside the courtroom and both left together. Court records reflect that on Aug. 3, 2011, Judge Tynes reversed a guilty verdict for Joseph J. O’Neill, Sr. for a red light camera ticket, citing weather conditions as the basis for the reversal.”
While ignorance of the law has never been a successful defense, not knowing one’s legal rights has led to wide range of unintended abuses — along with fines and penalties — being levied against defendants who are unaware of their right to legal representation in civil matters.
That theme will be the undercurrent as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille convenes the second of three Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings themed, “Civil Legal Representation of the Indigent: Have We Achieved Equal Access to Justice?” The hearing will begin on Thursday, May 29, at 9:30 a.m. at the Philadelphia Bar Association, 1101 Market St.
Castille is the honorary chairman of the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, which includes the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia as a member. Jennifer Clarke, the law center’s executive director, said ignorance of rights can, and has been, very costly.
“This is a timely hearing because people don’t know they have a right to a lawyer when they are facing basic, fundamental, human problems. That’s especially important here, because if you lose your house because of the mortgage or your landlord is trying to evict you, you have no right to a lawyer,” explained Clarke, who is also serving as co-chair of the coalition, noting the slight difference in the letter of the law regarding criminal and civil proceedings. “There’s situations were a woman’s safety is at issue and she needs protections from abuse, and there’s no legal right to a lawyer in these circumstances.
“We want to make people understand that taking on these basic fundamental problems without a lawyer causes great harm, not only to the person, but to society,” Clarke continued. “Especially for those threatened with eviction. They could be kicked out and left homeless.”
Among those expected to testify are Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Project HOME co-founder Sister Mary Scullion, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Family Division Supervising Judge Margaret T. Murphy and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia Executive Director Catherine C. Carr.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart J. Greenleaf will chair the hearing, which is open to the public.
“Equal access to legal representation is one of the most critical justice issues we face today,” Greenleaf said. “I am pleased to see the Commonwealth’s legal community come together to offer their insights and recommendations to the Judiciary Committee on this important matter. In recent years, we have seen the number of individuals seeking assistance increase and funding disappear due to the economic downturn.”
According to Clarke, another thrust of the hearing will be to provide interested parties with a list of lawyers and legal organizations that will help those in civil courses who cannot afford representation. While the Public Interest Law Center isn’t one of those organizations — the law center handles cases with a different makeup — Clarke cited the 50-year-old landmark decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right to counsel for the indigent in serious criminal matters, and says that sort of protection needs to be extended to the civil courts as well.
“The Supreme Court said that there isn’t a constitutional right [being abused] in these [civil] cases, and we want the Pennsylvania legislators to [subsidize these civil lawyers] like any other important thing in society. This right to a lawyer is so important to a great many people, and the Legislation should recognize that,” Clarke said, adding that the coalition is lobbying legislators on this issue. “People will come to this hearing and talk about what happened to them when they didn’t have a lawyer. They have either lost or risked losing their homes, or gotten sick due to it.”