Philadelphia Traffic Court Corruption: The Problem and the Solution


Following a prompt by Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille to look into the workings of the Philadelphia Traffic Court, investigator William G. Chadwick published an investigative report illuminating some rather interesting (and potentially damning) discoveries about the organization.  The push to see an investigation regarding the affairs of the city’s Traffic Court was made by Castille after it’s headquarters building was raided by the FBI under suspicions of corrupt activity.

Chadwick learned throughout the course of his probings that ticket-fixing, legal favors, and perhaps even bribery were rampant within the bureaucratic association.  In fact, a staggering total of four judges and nearly two dozen members of the court’s staff attested to the allegations and confirmed that such corrupt goings-on were indeed quite commonplace.

From the article:

Philadelphians were shocked, just shocked, to discover that tickets were being fixed at Traffic Court, while some Supreme Court justices reportedly seemed more upset that the report was released than troubled by its contents.

And in a cynical town, the allegations also hardly stunned ordinary folks who sought justice from Hogeland on that July day. But they said they were still troubled and frustrated that the system did not work the same for all.

“It’s not fair,” said Modugno, 38, one of several people interviewed by The Inquirer after the newspaper used court records to identify drivers whose tickets were handled by Hogeland that day.

“It’s just unfair that somebody sitting next to me could get a lesser charge because they know somebody,” Modugno said.

“Is it fair? No,” Clements, 55, said. “Just because you know somebody, to get out of the ticket? Nope. But I’m sure it happens all the time.”

The report also went on to paint a detailed picture of internal legal corruption by revealing that William Hird, the former director of operations for the Philadelphia Traffic Court, had been waiving traffic tickets and vehicle charges since he first took the position at the court in 2008.  In a particularly outrageous confession, Supreme Court Justice William Seamus McCaffery acknowledged that even he himself had contacted Hird via text message during Hird’s stint as director to see to it that his wife’s traffic violations were officially dismissed in court.  Hird eventually resigned following the FBI’s 2011 raid of the Traffic Court’s headquarters, and naturally (being the typical government crook that he is) refused to be interviewed both for Chadwick’s report and by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It should come as no surprise (contrary to the reaction cited by the article’s excerpt) to the general public that such acts of corruption in the so-called “justice system” take place not only occasionally, but are indeed frequent occurrences.  Logically, I’m inclined to doubt that such devious behaviors are unique to Philadelphia’s court systems (traffic courts or otherwise).  In any societal system that has been organized based upon the legislation of a centralized government authority (especially a society which also has a government court system to rule upon the enforcement of such laws), the granting of special priveleges for the friends and associates of those in power will be naturally prevalent.

If the government’s monopoly over the justice system as a whole were to be dismantled, and private companies were then permitted to establish their own businesses which would essentially act as courts on behalf of various business and property owners, this kind of injustice would be far less frequent.  If the owner of a space of land wanted to collect a small, voluntarily-provided fee as part of the terms for letting another individual park on his land, that would be his option.  Anyone who violated this term of agreement and parked on the owner’s land without contributing the fee for parking would therefore be subject to the penalties established and enforced by the privateindependent justice firm that such an owner would inevitably have hired in order to protect and uphold his private parking contracts.  Rather than opt to vigilantly patrol his parking lot day and night with some kind of weapon to fend off parking thieves (which would be dangerous, tiresome, and expensive), the owner would be naturally compelled to employ this sort of private justice firm to ensure that he would continue to receive proper compensation in the future for providing consumers with parking services.  If reports of corruption and the handing-out of extra privileges to special interests (such as the friends and family of the court’s judges, as in the case of Philadelphia) were running rampant among members of the public, land owners would be far more reluctant to do business with such crooked private court systems, and would instead hire more honest and reputable legal firms.

Why would anyone who owns space for public parking want to hire a court system that would let a judge’s friends and family slide without paying their fair share in exchange for using the owner’s property?  If the owner of a commercial parking lot were to hire such a corrupt justice firm, he would probably make little to no money off of the lot at all, due to the fact that the legal personnel he had foolishly hired (and their associates) would have free reign over his property.  Their individual parking fees (and the penalties for not paying such fees) could then be waived altogether, and naturally these privileged individuals would flock to the parking lots in which they held some legal pull in an effort to save money on parking.  This would potentially prevent other individuals who lack personal connections to the employees of the justice firm from obtaining affordable parking within the lot.  The outcome of such conditions would eventually lead to an increase in the price of parking so that the owner may attempt to make up for his financial losses.  This price increase would only further drive away honest consumers seeking to make use of his parking services.  The long-term result of such a scenario would therefore naturally end up with the outright looting of such parking property from its rightful holder, and predictably the eventual bankruptcy of the owner.  Unless further action were to be taken on the owner’s behalf to hire another, less corrupt provider of court services (which he would be free to do in a stateless society), the demise of his parking business would be predictably inevitable.

In other words: on the free market, corrupt courts wouldn’t be in business.  Competition would weed them out in favor of affordable, honest, and efficient providers of justice.  In a society controlled by a central authority (aka “government”), such competition is stifled out entirely, and every individual that is subject to government rule must be forced to settle with whatever outcome is decided upon by its officially-appointed judges–regardless of either the fairness or corrupt injustices of a ruling.  In such a system, only those with connections to positions of power within the government are likely to prosper and live comfortably; the rest of the common citizens must thereby suffer and bear the brunt of the unfair advantages taken by the members of the ruling elite and their well-connected special interests.

While it is unfortunate that the so-called “government” presently holds a total monopoly over all legal proceedings, it is somewhat comforting that instances such as the aforementioned expose regarding the Philadelphia Traffic Court can manage to create a current of outrage among those common citizens who fall victim to such tyranny.  These moments of public revelation serve as pinnacle opportunities to point out and emphasize government’s inefficiencies and outright corruption.  It is for this reason that I try, whenever possible, to seize such windows of opportunity in an attempt to illustrate my Austrian views to those individuals still supporting the idea that government is in any way beneficial to humanity.   Utilizing such instances to illuminate the potential for peaceful alternatives that could be opened up by a transition to a free market and a stateless society is, in my opinion, the best manner in which to approach this task.

Were it not for the monopoly over courts by the institution known as the “government,” the corruption and special favors in the Philadelphia Traffic Court would not be possible.  To prevent such instances of deviance within the present legal system before first abolishing its status as a monopoly over matters of justice is an impossibility–it is not simply a matter of “getting the right people in power.”  It is only through dismantling the government monopoly on justice and allowing for competition among private courts that individuals can expect to receive not only legal treatment that is equal to that of their peers (regardless of one’s political connections), but any semblance of justice at all.


One comment on “Philadelphia Traffic Court Corruption: The Problem and the Solution

  1. […] check out the precursor to this post, “Philadelphia Traffic Court Corruption: The Problem and the Solution”, before reading this […]

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