One of the most troubling aspects of the Family Court scandal has been Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille’s inability to get his story straight. Castille said he learned through reading the newspaper that the attorney representing the court had become the codeveloper of the proposed $200 million Family Court. But after first learning this startling news, Castille did nothing about it. Instead he worked with the attorney, Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, to manage the story.
Castille’s spokesman, L. Stuart Ditzen, appears to have gone one step further. He used what appears to be a veiled threat to try to intimidate Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, who had been asking tough questions about Rotwitt’s dual roles. Castille met with Rotwitt to discuss how to respond. Rotwitt then crafted a statement that said he was the codeveloper on the Family Court project. Rotwitt sent the response to the chief justice. Castille then issued Rotwitt’s statement word-for-word, but with one major change: the statement was attributed to Castille.
As Saffron continued to ask questions, Ditzen sent an e-mail that made reference to a libel verdict against The Inquirer for a story published in 1973. Ditzen said Saffron should be careful of her facts, and give Castille an opportunity answer any allegations. “You might consult with those at the paper who are familiar with the lessons of that (libel) case,” Ditzen, a former Inquirer reporter, wrote in his e-mail.
Castille defended Rotwitt’s work in a statement to Saffron. He then questioned Saffron’s objectivity, since she had previously criticized the design of the proposed Family Court.
Editors at the paper subsequently assigned the story to news reporters Joseph Tanfani and Mark Fazlollah, instead of to a critic. They wrote a detailed account of Rotwitt’s dual roles that appeared on the front page. Only then did Castille begin to distance himself from Rotwitt, who has since been fired from his law firm and removed from representing the state on the project.
Castille’s damage-control effort continued as he hired a Ballard Spahr attoney to investigate where $12 million spent on the Family Court project has gone. (Never mind that Castille controlled that cash.) Castille later removed that lawyer after questions were raised about a separate conflict of interest involving Ballard Spahr, which has been paid about $500,000 for work on the Family Court project. Castille then hired a former colleague from his days as the city’s district attorney to get to the bottom of the mess.
Given Castille’s leading role in the story, it is hard to tell if he is genuinely interested in getting at the whole truth, or is just doing more damage control. Fortunately for taxpayers, federal investigators are also on the case. No one has been charged with wrongdoing, but one thing is clear: Castille’s shifting story and bumbling oversight of the millions of dollars spent on the project has shred his credibility to tatters. He should step down from leading the court.