By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
While municipal government watchdog group Committee of Seventy suggested that the Philadelphia Bar Association "take responsibility for interviewing and rating all 2013 Traffic Court candidates" in the wake of nine judges being charged with crimes related to alleged ticket-fixing, the association's chancellor said the professional group does not have the jurisdiction to rate Traffic Court judges because they are not required to be lawyers.
Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson said that under the current rules, the bar association's Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention has jurisdiction over lawyers to have them come before the commission to be interviewed and have investigative teams look into the candidates.
But if a change is made to make Traffic Court judges lawyers, then the association would rate Traffic Court candidates and they also would be subject to the rules of professional responsibility for lawyers, Wilkinson said.
"Our association recommends or doesn't recommend lawyers who are candidates for judge," Wilkinson said. "We have no jurisdiction over nonlawyers; we are a bar association. One of my suggestions would be: Why don't we ask that there be a requirement that they be lawyers?"
Wilkinson also said she is pleased the judges were suspended while the allegations were pending. "We need to preserve the impartiality of the court," Wilkinson said.
The Committee of Seventy also suggested that both the Democratic and Republican city committees should agree only to support those candidates who receive positive ratings by the bar association.
Nine former and current Traffic Court judges were charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to fix traffic tickets. The state Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation Tuesday that would eliminate Traffic Court.
Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.