Courtroom Drama: Closing Arguments in the Traffic Court Trial

Federal prosecutors wrapped up their nearly eight-week case yesterday; the defense is expected to close its today.

US Eastern Pennsylvania District Court. Photo | JVinocur

US Eastern Pennsylvania District Court. Photo | JVinocur

Think hard, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek implored the jury. I know it’s been close to eight weeks, he said, but I want you to think back to before all of this began, back to when you yourselves were being questioned for the very job of juror.

“You were warned not to know anyone,” Wzorek said in front of packed courtroom yesterday. “You were asked if you had any preconceived notions of guilt or innocence … You are the fair and impartial fact-finders [here.]”

Wzorek then swept his arm back to point at the row of suited defendants behind him.

They were the fact finders in Philadelphia traffic court,” he said. “But they got their facts in a back room.”

Wzorek, midway through the prosecution’s closing argument in a minutiae-filled trial that has lasted the better part of two months, was attempting to paint the five former justices of Philadelphia Traffic Court as men and women who would not bat an eyelash at giving friends and family a break on their traffic tickets. The alleged scheme — wherein those with a “hookup” with one of the justices could put in a request to have his or her situation “taken care of,” free-of-charge — purportedly cost the city and state untold thousands from 2008 to 2011, and allowed many reckless drivers to remain on the road undeterred.

In one instance, Wzorek claimed, then-Justice Michael J. Sullivan even gave an associate of the court a break after he was caught driving on the sidewalk on a crowded street in Chinatown.

Six former judges — Traffic Court justices Michael J. Sullivan, Willie Singletary, Michael Lowry, Robert Mulgrew, Thomasine Tynes, and Chester County Magistrate Mark Bruno — have pled not guilty to assorted counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy. (A seventh judge, Fortunato Perri Sr., pled guilty to federal corruption charges in 2013, admitting that he’d let a few associates get off scot-free in exchange for some free landscaping and complimentary porn.)

Federal prosecutors have been arguing their case against the remaining six since May. While Singletary’s assistant, Tanya Hilton, said marking certain traffic cases for “consideration” is “just something judges do amongst themselves,” Wzorek was quick to explain otherwise before delving into a ticket-by-ticket rehash of many of the “fixed” citations.

“‘Consideration,’ ‘Preferential treatment,’ ‘Keeping an eye out,’” he said. “Witnesses avoided [saying] ‘ticket fixing’ like saying ‘cancer’ in a hospital.”

Both Singletary’s and Sullivan’s attorneys gave their closing arguments Thursday afternoon, asserting that the U.S government had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Attorneys for the remaining defendants will speak today before the government is allowed its final rebuttal. Jury deliberation is expected to begin on Monday.

Attorney William Brennan, representing Singletary, who was removed from his position in 2012 for showing a photo of his genitals to a female court clerk, took the time to remind jurors that there is no evidence that shows his client making a dime from the alleged scheme.

“If ‘consideration’ is ‘this-for-that,’ where is the ‘that?’”

Previously: The Chart the Traffic Court Judges Didn’t Want The Jury To See