Wednesday, May 12, 2004


It appears that another SEPTA Board member is about to be getting an increase in government business, thank's to one of the region's most notorious patronage mills.

According to the Inquirer, a law firm headed by SEPTA Board member Denise Joy Smyler, who was appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) to the SEPTA board last year, is reportedly about to recieve a contract from the Delaware River Port Authority (whose chairman is none other than Fast Eddie himself) to go after scofflaws who evade tolls on the four DRPA-owned bridges.

[DVRPC] plans to refer about 150 more cases to the firm of Zeller & Bryant, which prosecutes New Jersey scofflaws. Sixty more cases are likely to go to Center City lawyer Denise Joy Smyler, who has taken over the Pennsylvania load from Wolf Block Schorr. She is the founder of the law firm of Smyler, Taylor & Gentile.

Smyler, who has ties to the Democratic Party, was appointed to the SEPTA board by Gov. Rendell, also the DRPA's chairman. She was chosen by the DRPA after Rendell dumped Wolf Block Schorr, which has ties to both political parties, as Pennsylvania counsel. Smyler has not been given any cases yet.

This is despite the fact that DRPA is losing money by hiring law firms to go after scofflaws instead of keeping the work in house, as most other agencies do (which is par for the course over in Camden).

One of the firms pursuing them, Center City-based Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, has been paid $32,594 to date to go after deadbeats. In two years, the firm has collected nothing. The firm was replaced during the summer, but will continue to pursue cases assigned to it before that time.

Another firm is Zeller & Bryant, run by New Jersey State Sen. Wayne R. Bryant (D., Camden). His wife is the assistant general manager of the port authority's PATCO High-Speed Line.

Since 2002, Zeller & Bryant has been paid $19,632. In turn, the firm has produced about $19,000 for DRPA.

All told, the practice of collecting from major E-ZPass deadbeats has cost paying customers $52,226 but has produced only the $19,000 in revenue.

The DRPA uses a different tactic in going after repeat deadbeats than other transportation agencies. Those agencies either use in-house staff or collection agencies to go after offenders. Any collection agencies are paid a percentage of what they collect.

But the DRPA decided lawyers would be more intimidating than collection agencies. It pays those lawyers a standard $225 an hour whether they collect or not.

The legal fees represent a small sum for an agency that last year paid a total of $3.1 million to outside law firms for a variety of work. Still, after increasing E-ZPass fees and laying off workers to fill a deficit this year, some commissioners are calling for a better policy.

"It's not a good practice, and it has to be changed," said DRPA vice chairman Jeffrey L. Nash, who contended that the firms should be paid a percentage of what they collect. "It's not only the collections, it's across the board," Nash said. "DRPA is paying too much in legal fees."

This, by the way, is from an agency that still wants to build an aerial tram between Camden and Philadelphia, which is an even dumber idea than SEPTA's "MetroRail" scheme for $chuylkill Valley.

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