Monday, May 24, 2010

Philadelphia Courthouse Building Questions

In a developing story coming out of Philadelphia over a new courthouse building Democratic candidate in the 103rd district- Gene Stilp filed complaint against Chief Justice Castille in the Philly Courthouse bid scandal according to RoxburyNews.

Over the weekend the Philadelphia Inquirer penned this edtiorial concerning its eleventh-hour disclosure by an Inquirer investigative team that a courthouse consultant holds what appears to be a conflicting role as codeveloper of the project, casts doubt on the fairness of the $200 million price tag.

In this story published May 21, 2010 by staff writers Joseph Tanfani and Mark Fazlollah the reporters discovered that real estate lawyer and developer Jeffrey B. Rotwitt was working both sides of construction project to build a $200 million courthouse. He was paid $3.9 million as fees on the project from the courts.

But Rotwitt found a way to make even more money from the courts project, a 14-story tower planned for 15th and Arch Streets. It would be the largest current public works project in Philadelphia after the Convention Center expansion.

He made a separate deal with Donald W. Pulver, the Conshohocken developer who has development rights at the site. For more than a year, he and Pulver said, Rotwitt has been splitting the monthly development fees paid by the courts, fees that Rotwitt proposed in the first place. So far, that arrangement has earned Rotwitt close to $500,000.

"It was all open and above board," Rotwitt said.

State Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who has been working closely with Rotwitt on the courts project for two years, said he had no idea about that arrangement until The Inquirer's architecture critic, Inga Saffron, reported it and started asking questions about how Rotwitt could be on both sides of the deal.

Because he was relying on Rotwitt's advice, Castille said in an interview in his Philadelphia office, there's no way to know whether the public has gotten a good deal thus far on the $200 million Family Court project.

After the story broke Governor Rendell came to the rescue with an announcement that he would release the $200 million for the courthouse project but only with competitive bidding.

Rendell said he would release the $200 million for the huge courthouse at 15th and Arch Streets, but would require competitive bids, even if that means delays, to make sure the project is scrubbed of any conflicts of interest.

Rendell's announcement means the apparent end of the court system's two-year-old development deal with Donald W. Pulver, a developer from Conshohocken.

The Inquirer reported on Friday that Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, a lawyer the courts hired as a real estate consultant, has also been collecting fees on the other side of the deal as Pulver's co-developer.

"The commonwealth always looks at potential conflicts of interest, particularly when it comes to the taxpayers' money," Rendell said. "We will make sure there is no conflict of interest in this deal, even if it means slowing it up."

Rendell, joined by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Mayor Nutter, appeared at City Hall to announce the funding for the 14-story, 29-courtroom building. Family Court handles some of the most sensitive cases in the justice system: juvenile crimes, divorces, child-neglect hearings.

On Tuesday, lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. of the firm Ballard Spahr, which represents the courts and Castille, sent Pulver and Rotwitt a letter asking them to detail their partnership and list everyone who received any money from the courts.

Rotwitt did not respond. Lawyers for Pulver did not provide the information, but said, "We previously advised your firm of the involvement of Deilwydd Property Group L.L.C. and Mr. Rotwitt in this project months ago."

Feeley declined to comment on Rotwitt's dual roles, other than to repeat that documents showed that court representatives knew about his work as developer.

Stilp's complaint isn't the first time he and Castille have clashed over an issue. As reported by John Micek at CapitolIdeas on January 15, 2008 after he was sworn into office yesterday, new state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille got hit with a disciplinary complaint from professional gadfly Gene Stilp.

In what we're pretty sure is Stilp's millionth court filing since the short-lived 2005 pay raise, the Dauphin County activist and onetime Nader Raider claims that Castille ran afoul of disciplinary rules when he told Philly Daily News columnist John Baer late last year that he was soon going to allow a grand jury probe of casino owner Louis DeNaples to proceed.

According to Stilp, that action violated Canon 3 of the judicial code of ethics, which says "judges should abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in any court."

To quote John Micek "Here we go again".

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