Judge Accused of Fraud Can’t Enjoin Suspension

     (CN) – A judge who let his political and social connections slide in traffic court cannot enjoin his unpaid suspension by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a federal judge ruled.
     Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno, of West Chester, Pa., has presided over cases in the Philadelphia Traffic Court once a year for four or five days, at the request of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, while traffic court judges are away on training.
     A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania indicted Bruno earlier this year and charged him with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
     The Jan. 29 indictment says Bruno and his co-conspirators “used the Philadelphia Traffic Court … to give preferential treatment to certain ticketholders, most commonly by ‘fixing’ tickets for those with whom they were politically and socially connected.”
     Without any prior notice to Bruno, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Bruno without pay on Feb. 1. Bruno has been paid since the date of the order and still receives medical benefits, but he has to pay $72 per month to receive them.
     In a federal complaint against the state Supreme Court, Bruno claimed that the suspension amounted to a violation of his procedural due process rights under the 14th Amendment. The judge moved to preliminarily enjoin the defendants from suspending him without pay and benefits pending the resolution of his criminal trial.
     U.S. District Judge Anita Brody shot Bruno down last week, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Gilbert v. Homar, wherein a tenured police officer charged with a felony claimed Pennsylvania deprived him of due process.
     “As was the case in Gilbert, Bruno has only been temporarily suspended without pay,” Brody wrote. “Therefore, his private interest is ‘relatively insubstantial’ because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has offered Bruno the opportunity for additional post-suspension procedural process in its suspension order. In contrast, the PA Supreme Court defendants’ interest in immediately suspending Bruno is significant, because as a member of the state’s judiciary, Bruno holds a high visibility position of great public trust, a position that is even more visible than the police officer in Gilbert.”
     Brody later added: “In Gilbert, formal criminal charges provided sufficient assurance that there were reasonable grounds to support the officer’s suspension without pay, thus eliminating the need for a pre-suspension hearing. Here, Bruno has been indicted by a federal grand jury – that provides even more reason than formal charges for a state to believe that an employee has committed a felony. Certainly, the criminal indictment provides reasonable grounds to support the PA Supreme Court defendants’ decision to suspend Bruno without pay. Accordingly, Bruno has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that he was entitled to a pre-suspension hearing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended him without pay.”
     Instead of filing a federal suit, Bruno should have requested a hearing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, according to the ruling.
     “[Bruno] argues that he went straight to this court because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not have the power to impose his interim suspension; thus a post-suspension hearing was not ‘realistically available by the rules or from a practical basis,'” Brody wrote. “Despite Bruno’s contention, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that it has the power to impose interim suspensions on judges based on its supervisory power over the court system. There is no evidence that Bruno will be unable to receive an adequate post-suspension hearing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

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