A former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge charged in an alleged ticket-fixing conspiracy was vindicated in a high-profile, two-month trial, thanks to Ballard Spahr attorneys who successfully poked holes in the prosecution’s argument that their client intentionally committed fraud. The former judge, Michael J. Sullivan, was represented by Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., who leads the firm’s White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group, as well as associate Terence M. Grugan.
Mr. Sullivan was one of five former judges charged with conspiracy and wire and mail fraud in a five-year FBI investigation arising from what the prosecution alleged were special favors granted to friends, family, and political allies who had received traffic citations. In those instances, prosecutors said, violators who asked for “consideration” would see their charges downgraded or dropped, or they would be found “not guilty in absentia,” meaning they did not even have to show up in court. Prosecutors said this deprived the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential fines.
Much of the trial focused on how to define the term “consideration,” which the prosecution contended was a euphemism for ticket-fixing. But Mr. Hockeimer and Mr. Grugan argued that the term merely meant that the judges would weigh whether a plea bargain or dismissal of charges was warranted—and in some cases, those who requested “consideration” were still found guilty. In particular, Mr. Sullivan had never taken anything of value that could be construed as a bribe or kickback from anyone seeking “consideration,” Mr. Hockeimer said.
In addition, the Ballard Spahr attorneys argued that for the government to prove mail fraud or wire fraud, it would have to demonstrate that the City and Commonwealth had a “property interest” in the potential traffic fines. But without an adjudication of guilt that would require actual payment of any fines, there was no property interest, they said. After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury acquitted Mr. Sullivan of all 20 counts against him.
Mr. Hockeimer and Mr. Grugan were assisted by associate Jessica M. Anthony in filing a pretrial motion to dismiss the charges against Mr. Sullivan. Although the motion was denied, it established an important framework for the Ballard Spahr team’s arguments during the trial.
“The government really overreached in this case, and we were able to marshal all of the facts necessary to prove it,” Mr. Hockeimer said. “We’re gratified that Mr. Sullivan was able to clear his name.”