District judge admits fixing own tickets Gets break on other charges, but must face state conduct board
BY BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer
A suspended district judge admitted to fixing her own parking tickets in exchange for a reduction of the most serious charges lodged against her and dismissals of others.
Kelly S. Ballentine signed the plea deal Friday afternoon, which was approved by Chester County Judge Charles B. Smith.
The guilty plea came a day after Ballentine was convicted of operating her Lancaster city clothing store without a license. She was ordered to pay a fine of $369 on that summary charge.
In Lancaster County Court, Ballentine admitted to dismissing three of her own parking tickets in December 2010 and January 2011 -- but denied doing so with the intent to defraud the county.
The state attorney general's office agreed to drop six of the nine charges and reduced the remaining three counts of tampering with public records from felonies to misdemeanors.
Ballentine, 44, faces a maximum two-year prison penalty on each count, but Judge Smith noted the "greater penalty" will come from the state Judicial Conduct Board.
The board could potentially recover salary that Ballentine was paid during the past year on suspension -- or disbar her altogether, the judge noted.
"Since they have the real authority," Smith said, "I'd rather see them act first" before I order sentence.
There is no time frame on when the conduct board will apply penalty.
Anthony Forray, assistant attorney general, explained in court why the plea deal was made:
Forray said Ballentine received numerous other traffic tickets in recent years, which she paid, including two that were paid a day before she dismissed a ticket.
Also, Forray said, the three parking violations which Ballentine dismissed were related to her parking for doctor's appointments.
"We are not dismissing the defendant's actions," Forray told the judge. "She clearly did wrong. But the evidence would indicate she paid many other tickets."
Ballentine, a district judge for a portion of the city, has been free on $25,000 bail after charges were filed last February.
She said little at the hearing, other than acknowledging she pleads guilty.
"I acknowledge as long as the intent to defraud has been removed," she said.
Following a hearing Thursday afternoon, a senior district judge found Ballentine guilty of a single summary count of doing business without a license.
Ballentine was ordered to pay a fine of $369.45, but avoided prison -- the charge carried a potential 30-day prison sentence.
In October, the state Department of Revenue charged Ballentine with conducting taxable sales without a license at Walk-In Style Fashion Footwear, 356 N. Queen St.
Court documents allege that Ballentine did not have a sales-tax license for the 3-year-old business but went ahead and charged customers for the tax.
Agents with the department's bureau of collections and taxpayer services testified at the hearing. A member of the state Judicial Conduct Board also attended the hearing, according to court officials.
Senior District Judge Paula Correal, of Cumberland County, convicted Ballentine, 44, and ordered the minimum $300 fine, plus court costs.
District Judge Bruce Roth would have presided over the summary trial, but recused himself because of Ballentine's position.
Her store, specializing in women's fashion and accessories, appears open for business.