135 A.3d 1164 (Pa.Ct.Jud.Disc. 2016), 2 JD 13, In re Sullivan

Docket Nº:2 JD 13, 5 JD 14, 9 JD 15
Citation:135 A.3d 1164
Opinion Judge:JACK PANELLA, JUDGE.
Party Name:IN RE: Michael J. Sullivan, Former Judge, Philadelphia Traffic Court, Philadelphia County
Judge Panel:BEFORE: Honorable Robert J. Colville, P.J., Honorable Carmella Mullen, J., Honorable Jack A. Panella, J, Honorable John J. Soroko, J., Honorable David J. Shrager, J., Honorable David J. Barton, J. PER CURIAM
Case Date:January 14, 2016
Court:Court of Judicial Discipline of Pennsylvania
 
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135 A.3d 1164 (Pa.Ct.Jud.Disc. 2016)

IN RE: Michael J. Sullivan, Former Judge, Philadelphia Traffic Court, Philadelphia County

Nos. 2 JD 13, 5 JD 14, 9 JD 15

Court of Judicial Discipline of Pennsylvania

January 14, 2016

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BEFORE: Honorable Robert J. Colville, P.J., Honorable Carmella Mullen, J., Honorable Jack A. Panella, J, Honorable John J. Soroko, J., Honorable David J. Shrager, J., Honorable David J. Barton, J.

OPINION

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JACK PANELLA, JUDGE.

There is no place for corruption in the Pennsylvania judiciary. No type of corruption is acceptable in Pennsylvania.

PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

There are three docket entries for Michael J. Sullivan, the Respondent and a former judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court.1 The Judicial Conduct Board initially filed a petition for interim suspension on January 31, 2013. That petition was docketed to No. 2 JD 2013. On August 9, 2013, this Court entered a decision and order which suspended Sullivan, without pay, pending further order of court.2 In accordance with our opinion and order of August 27, 2015, the suspension remains in effect.3

The Board filed a Complaint against Sullivan, docketed to No. 5 JD 2014, on December 22, 2014. This Complaint alleged, inter alia, that Sullivan had participated in the practice of " giving favorable treatment in traffic court cases" to certain defendants during his tenure as a judge on the Philadelphia Traffic Court and, importantly, after he became Administrative Judge. The Complaint included allegations that favorable treatment was extended to defendants who were somehow connected or related to judges of the Traffic Court.

The Complaint concluded that Sullivan is subject to discipline pursuant to Article V, § § 17(b) & 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

On April 14, 2015, the Board filed a second complaint against Sullivan, docketed to No. 9 JD 2015, alleging that although Sullivan had been found " not guilty" of violating federal criminal statutes, his conduct as alleged in the federal prosecution constituted violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges applicable to Philadelphia

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Traffic Court judges.4 Numerous fact-specific cases were cited In the new Complaint, including the matters involving Michael Ambron and David Callsen, Jr., as well as former senior Magisterial District Judge Kenneth Miller, which implicated Sullivan in a system of special treatment for certain defendants. The Complaint again concluded that Sullivan is subject to discipline pursuant to Article V, § § 17(b) & 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

At the Pre-trial Conference held on August 13, 2015, all three cases were consolidated.

A trial was held on November 6, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Board was represented by James P. Kleman, Jr., Esq., Deputy Counsel; former Judge Sullivan was represented by Samuel Stretton, Esq. At the trial, the following witnesses were called by the Board; 1) Danielle Czerniakowski

2) Richard Delario

3) In rebuttal: Francis J. Puskas II, Esq., Deputy Chief Counsel of the Board

4) In rebuttal: James Morgan, Esq.

Former Judge Sullivan testified on his own behalf and also called Dominic Reda as a witness.

In addition to the evidence received on November 6, the Board and Sullivan have submitted stipulations of fact in lieu of trial under C.J.D.R.P. No. 502(D)(1). At the time of the pre-trial conference, and at the trial, the Court accepted these stipulations of fact. Based upon the credible evidence from the trial, and the pertinent stipulations, the Court set forth the following Findings of Fact.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. The Judicial Conduct Board is empowered by Article V, § 18 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to file formal charges alleging ethical misconduct on the part of judges, justices or justices of the peace: The board shall receive and investigate complaints regarding judicial conduct filed by individuals or initiated by the board; . . . determine whether there is probable cause to file formal charges against a justice, judge or justice of the peace for conduct proscribed by this section; and present the case in support of the charges before the Court of Judicial Discipline.

2. Former Judge Michael J. Sullivan (hereinafter " Respondent" ) previously served, until his suspension in 2012, as a judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

3. Respondent served as Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court from April 27, 2011 until December 19, 2011.

4. By Per Curiam Order dated December 19, 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania relieved the Respondent of his assignment as Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

5. As a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, the Respondent was at all times relevant hereto, subject to all the duties and responsibilities imposed on him by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges, by virtue of Rule 18 of those Rules.

6. This matter was investigated by the Board at their own initiation.

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7. As a result of its investigation, the Board concluded that there was probable cause to file formal charges in this Court against the Respondent,

8. On occasion, Philadelphia Traffic Court judges, including the Respondent, requested favorable treatment for certain defendants that they knew from other Philadelphia Traffic Court judges.

9. After it was revealed publicly in the federal indictment against the Respondent and others, this practice of requesting favorable treatment became known as or referred to by the federal authorities as " special consideration," although the Philadelphia Traffic Court judges, employees and others in the system merely referred to it as " consideration" or " keeping an eye out."

10. The practice of requesting and providing special treatment for certain defendants in Philadelphia Traffic Court pre-dated former Judge Sullivan's tenure as a traffic court judge and continued after he became a traffic court judge.

11. The individuals who received this " special consideration" included those defendants who were: o politically connected;

o family members of the traffic court judges;

o personal friends of the traffic court judges; and

o court employees and family members of court employees.

12. The Respondent transmitted these requests for favorable treatment to other Philadelphia Traffic Court judges through Danielle Czerniakowski, a member of his judicial office staff since 2006.

13. Requests to the Respondent for " special consideration" were generally channeled through Czerniakowski.

14. When Czerniakowski received requests for " special consideration" for a defendant appearing before the Respondent, she communicated the request to the Respondent by placing an index card with the name of the defendant on the top of a case file folder listed for court.

15. The index card was usually discarded after the proceeding.

16. On occasion, requests for " special consideration" to the Respondent were provided to him through Richard Delario, a Philadelphia Traffic Court officer.

17. Typically, the Respondent required that defendants who requested " special consideration" or for whom " special consideration" was requested to appear in his courtroom when their case was called.

18. In May 2011, Michael Ambron was employed as a driver for Brightline Construction, Inc.

19. Brightline is owned by William Arnold.

20. The Respondent knew Arnold and would speak with him from time to time.

21. Arnold knew the Respondent's cell phone number in May 2011.

22. While driving a Brightline truck towing an excavator, Ambron got stuck under Hunting Park Bridge in the City of Philadelphia on May 12, 2011.

23. Ambron was issued two citations stemming from the bridge accident, i.e., Michael Ambron Citations X04074103 and X0407114.

24. Brightline was issued one citation for an invalid inspection stemming from the bridge accident, i.e., Brightline Citation X04074125.

25. On May 12, 2011, at 8:32 a.m., Arnold called the Respondent on his cell phone.

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26. Arnold related the details of the accident to the Respondent.

27. After receiving the information about the accident, the Respondent gave instructions to Arnold as to where he should go in Traffic Court to get his truck out of impoundment.

28. The Respondent instructed Arnold to send him a text message when Arnold arrived at Traffic Court to get the truck out of...

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