President judge said cases will be handled by rest of county’s magisterial district judges
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
For the second time in less than a year, Chester County’s president judge has ordered a magisterial district judge to relinquish county-issued keys, ID, and cellphone.
President Judge James P. MacElree II issued a brief order Thursday afternoon that referenced an indictment unsealed on Thursday against Magisterial District Judge Mark A. Bruno, one of 12 defendants. The 50-year-old judge from West Chester is accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in a case alleging ticket-fixing in Philadelphia’s Traffic Court.
MacElree said Bruno cannot reenter his office or any Chester County magisterial district judge’s office, enter or modify any court records, or perform any duties associated with being a magisterial district judge – a directive that represents the extent of MacElree’s authority.
Only the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline has the power to suspend a judge, an action that typically follows a recommendation from the state Judicial Conduct Board, which is charged with investigating alleged ethical misconduct by judges. So far, no complaints have been filed by the board, a spokesperson for the Court of Judicial Discipline said.
Vincent P. DiFabio, who represents Bruno, said his client will plead not guilty at his arraignment, which will be held Tuesday since Bruno is currently out of town. DiFabio said Bruno worked no more than a handful of weeks a year in Philadelphia as a substitute judge, filling in for vacations and other absences. DiFabio said he was still reviewing the indictment. “Our intention at this point is to defend it very vigorously,” DiFabio said.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said his office has not been advised of any conduct related to the indictment within Chester County. “Anybody with any information should contact the FBI – Newtown Square Resident Agency at 610-353-4500,” Hogan said in a news release. The indictment said Bruno requested assistance from Senior Traffic Court Judge Fortunato N. Perri Sr. to fix a ticket for “J.M” in January 2011. During a subsequent intercepted phone call, Perri took credit for “putting” Bruno in Traffic Court, the indictment said.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9) also issued a news release in response to the indictments, which include nine judges as defendants. Pileggi said the indictments reinforce the plan he announced Jan. 11 to end Philadelphia’s Traffic Court. “Traffic Court is an institution with a multi-generational tradition of dysfunction,” Pileggi said in the release. “Since I announced my plan to abolish it, not a single member of the General Assembly has publicly defended the status quo. I’m pleased by that, because the status quo is indefensible.”
MacElree’s order said the caseload for Bruno’s court will be handled by the rest of the county’s magisterial district judges.
In February 2012, MacElree issued a similar order to Magisterial District Judge Rita A. Arnold, who was accused of improperly handling a 2010 citation issued to her son, Forrest ”Forrie” C. Solomon Jr. One of several improprieties listed in the complaint by the Judicial Conduct Board involved transferring her son’s case to Bruno’s court without authorization.
In June, the state Court of Judicial Discipline found “clear and convincing evidence” that Arnold violated the rules of professional conduct. A month later, an eight-member panel of the court, citing Arnold’s remorse, suspended her for a month without pay followed by two years’ probation. Arnold, who was paid during her time out of the office, resumed her position on the bench on Sept. 1.