Via one of my favorite blogs, the ever-fantastic Philly Law Blog written by Jordan Rushie and Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr., whose beard-mentoring qualifications give me beard envy and whose fashion sensibilities continue to intimidate me into wearing plaid for every occasion, respectively, came this amazing little report. In case you don’t want to click through, the report details all kinds of favorable treatment given to important people by Philadelphia’s traffic courts. Unlike most thirty-plus page reports about a court in a different state, I felt compelled to read it. I’m glad I did.
The report tells a story of judges giving “special consideration” to people with power. It explains that judges routinely helped the politically connected individuals get all kinds of benefits, even when no express request was made. The FBI stepped in and exposed what the report calls “a two-track system of justice, one for the politically connected and another for the unwitting general public.” The report notes that, “while no one inside Traffic Court alleged that money or anything else of value changed hands, preferential treatment in a traffic case has substantial financial value. With fines in the thousands of dollars, insurance surcharges, driver license suspension and scofflaw incarceration all at stake, there is a serious risk of these services being bought and sold.”
After discussing all of the problems, the report described the following measures “to restore integrity and public confidence in the operations of the Traffic Court” (my summary, with my commentary):
1) they’ve appointed a respected judge to serve as administrative judge (sweet…that’ll fix it);
2) that judge wants to restore integrity and professionalism, and he holds meetings (woo-hoo!);
3) there’s an ethics training program (ooh);
4) hiring will be merit-based (what was it before?);
5) there’s an oath of office (double-ooh);
6) plus data analysis to identify suspicious trends (yay!);
7) prompt investigations have been conducted when evidence of unethical conduct has been
indicated (that’ll surely fix it);
8) they’re confronting employees found to have engaged in unethical practices (ut-oh);
9) they’re scheduling things to mitigate the risk of judge shopping and case manipulation (whew);
10) modifications have been made to the programming of the case management system (brilliant!);
11) court employees have been encouraged to seek guidance regarding ethics issues and to snitch (snitching fixes everything, after all);
12) judges alleged to have engaged in unethical or inappropriate conduct have been referred to the Supreme Court and to the Judicial Conduct Board (yikes!);
13) there’s a “full scale compliance program consistent with the best practices of private industry…being developed” (because private industry never messes anything up); and
14) “[o]ptions for recording courtroom proceedings are being explored (that doesn’t happen already?).”
Here are the suggested reforms that conclude the report (taken verbatim):
1) Require that Traffic Court judges be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania;
2) Eliminate the position of Traffic Court judge and employ non-elected administrative hearing officers to adjudicate the majority of motor vehicle violations; and
3) Eliminate the Traffic Court entirely and transfer its jurisdiction to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
If you’re still with me, here’s my solution:
This is all a waste of time. Scrap the whole thing.
Politicians pass egregious laws about all kinds of stupid things that should never be the subject of any law because most of us are scared of our own shadows. Said pandering politicians, quite aware of the general population’s lack of common sense and its unquenchable desire to punish itself, attempt to remove themselves from the embarrassing disaster we demanded they create. After some of the people in power who suck at covering up their corruption are discovered avoiding liability for violating the ignorant and ineffective laws they helped pass, we simply replace them with other people who are ever so slightly more powerful, more subtle, and thus more likely to quietly do the same. They institute the program of our dreams, one that will ensure we are all equally screwed. Except them, of course.
In a sane world, we would all be getting away with this kind of stuff. The problem isn’t that people with “special consideration” find their dumb little tickets disappearing but rather that the very people who make the laws have such little respect for them that they find it necessary to curry favor to avoid the ridiculous penalties they had to create in order to keep being elected. The laws are the problem.
Driving is a funny thing. The lady I saw commuting to work in her Prius while pressing her overcoat and going ten under with her turn signal on and no intention of turning deserves a ticket, but she’ll never get one. On the other hand, I don’t care how fast the lady in the Carrera GT with several high performance driving courses under her belt wants to go. The competent guy riding a GSXR-1000 shouldn’t get a ding on his record for going eleven over while a guy on on a Rebel sits there clogging the HOV lane going thirty under with impunity. Cops lack the legal backing, and probably the skill, to properly distinguish the safe from the disaster waiting to happen. They’re going to get it wrong every time.
Worst of all, the only reason anyone cares about the ticket in the first place is because of the insurance consequences. Without that, it would just be a one-time speeding tax. The laws primarily exist to provide conglomerates with a reason to price-gouge certain segments of the population. Ten miles per hour is a split second on the throttle in many vehicles, and ten over the speed limit to a dead stop tends to occur even sooner in some of those same vehicles. No one with an ounce of intelligence and a modicum of skill ever believes the traffic laws should apply to them. It’s all those other people who are going to slaughter our children on the roads that need to respect the law.
The real problem in Philadelphia is that some people got justice. Their “special consideration” was just the sort of thing that everyone should get. Instead of realizing that, the good people of Philly now have fourteen useless steps in the wrong direction and three suggestions intended to transfer power to people who will abuse it more discretely. Are we really so stupid that we would think that’s any solution at all?