Editorial: A judge should know better

It is certainly welcome news that Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille pulled the plug on the no-bid development deal for a new Family Court building that he was overseeing.

But that should not be the end of this incredible story. If anything, it's just the beginning.

Lots of unanswered questions remain. They include: Where did all the money go? Who has the independence and authority to investigate a lot of high-powered players? What the heck was Castille thinking?

More than $10 million has been spent on a project that has yet to break ground. A large chunk of the money went to attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, who has worn two hats on the project.

Rotwitt started out representing the state and ended up on the other side of the deal as the codeveloper with Donald Pulver. Rotwitt said his relationships were disclosed and there were no conflicts because his state work ended before he joined Pulver.

Pulver has received $1 million for "land" costs, even though he paid nothing for the development rights to the property, which is owned by the Philadelphia Parking Authority - a state agency.

The key person behind the $200 million taxpayer-funded court project is Chief Justice Castille. He worked closely with Rotwitt for two years, as they scouted locations and sought state funding.

Castille says he wasn't aware of Rotwitt's ties to the developer until he read it in The Inquirer. Rotwitt says Castille and others knew about his roles. Would anyone care to take a lie-detector test?

While we are asking questions, why is the chief justice of the state Supreme Court essentially overseeing the construction of a courthouse? And why was there never a formal bidding process or request for proposals?

That should be standard procedure for something as complex as building a 14-story courthouse in the middle of Philadelphia. Without any public bids and very few signed documents, it is unclear whether taxpayers received the best representation or price.

Castille failed to even get a construction agreement. As a judge and lawyer, he must understand the importance of a contract.

Other questions surround the role of two well-connected law firms involved in the deal, including Rotwitt's firm: Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel - which fired him last week.

Rotwitt's entry into the project came through former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Newman, who began dating Obermayer chairman Martin Weinberg months after she hired Rotwitt.

After Newman left the court, Castille spearheaded the project. He hired Ballard Spahr, Gov. Rendell's old firm, to monitor the project. Castille's point man at Ballard was John Estey, Rendell's former chief of staff. It's all so cozy. Castille has now hired another Ballard attorney, Henry E. Hockeimer, to determine the ties between Rotwitt and Pulver. Does anyone see other conflicts here?

A full accounting of all spending and any conflicts surrounding the Family Court project is needed. But not by a lawyer at a firm involved in the project. Castille is in no position to lead the inquiry, either. It's time for an independent investigator.