Bobby Mulgrew has come a long way since I first wrote about him 10 years ago.Back in 2002, he was a $29,000 a year aide to State Senator Vince Fumo. Ed Rendell was running against Bob Casey in the Democratic gubernatorial primary that spring, and Vince was backing Casey against Ed.At the pre-election Democratic dinner, Fumo spotted Mulgrew wearing a Rendell button, and told him if he didn’t take it off, he’d be fired.Mulgrew told me back then that he’d said, “That’s your decision, senator,” and that Fumo had said, “you’re fired,” and walked off.The next day Mulgrew got a letter from the chief clerk of the State Senate telling him he was terminated. No reason was given, but it was quick lesson in the ways of patronage employment.But Mulgrew didn’t starve.He was quickly gathered into the fold of Fumo’s arch-rival at the time, electricians’ union leader John Dougherty.Mulgrew became an employee of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and in 2007 he won a seat on traffic court with the help of $120,000 in contributions from the union’s political committee.
A sour turn in the story
Mulgrew took his seat on the bench and 2008, but a couple of years later, FBI agents raided his house.Now we know why. Thursday Mulgrew was charged in a federal indictment with helping himself to thousands of state dollars targeted for the Friends of Dickinson Square Community Development Corp.His attorney says it ain’t so, and Mulgrew will have his day in court, along with his wife a state legislative aide who are also charged.Mulgrew was suspended with pay Friday. The state Court of Judicial Discipline will consider whether he’ll keep getting his checks while the case proceeds.But as I pondered the arc of Mulgrew’s career, it dawned on me that he could conceivably end up in the same cell block as Vince.That would be at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky, where Fumo is serving time on corruption charges.Imagine a reconciliation in the exercise yard.”Hey Bobby, you know I really overreacted on that button.””Nah, nah Vince, I was outta line with that…”
A court full of jesters
But to get serious for a moment, can Philadelphia traffic court do anything else to live down to its reputation?That’s not easy for an institution that once hired Milton Street an assistant budget director, then had to let him go for failing to pay $2,000 in traffic tickets.The charges against Mulgrew are just the latest embarrassment for the court.Within the past year we’ve seen the court’s administrative judge Michael Sullivan removed after a ticket-fixing investigation, and Judge Willie Singletary resign after allegedly showing pictures of his privates to an employee he was trying to woo.Not exactly what you’d call judicial temperament.There are no legal qualifications for running for traffic court, just political ones. If you don’t have juice, you don’t get elected.For years, Lynn Marks and her crew at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts have been toiling away, trying to get merit selection on the state agenda.If we need any further evidence that we shouldn’t be electing judges, I’ll sure we won’t have to wait long.