Editorial: Castille must resign

Posted: June 20, 2010

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille's sloppy - at best - handling of the process to build a new Family Court calls into question his ability to manage the state court system.

The latest revelation is that the double-dealing lawyer Castille paid to spearhead the project also represented the Foxwoods casino in cases before the state Supreme Court. That raises serious conflict-of-interest issues that undermine trust in the chief justice's impartiality surrounding legal matters.

The combination of these two troubling events should prompt Castille to resign as chief justice. He should step aside in the interest of restoring public trust in the state's highest court. Castille does not have to leave the court. But the current perception of collusion disqualifies him to lead the court during this dark period.

Castille's actions surrounding the Family Court deal and the Foxwoods case are troubling enough. But Castille's public response to these revelations show he doesn't fully grasp just how badly he has tarnished the court.

Even before this scandal, the court was not held in high regard. But it has reached a new low.

At issue is the relationship attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt had with Castille. Rotwitt was hired to represent the Supreme Court's effort to build a new $200 million Family Court in Philadelphia. Somewhere along the way, Rotwitt went from representing the court to codeveloper of the project.

Rotwitt has been paid for his roles on both sides of the deal. He says there was no conflict because one job ended before the other began, and he disclosed his roles to Castille and others.

Castille claims he learned Rotwitt was the codeveloper only by reading about it in The Inquirer. Following the newspaper reports, Castille ended the development deal. Rotwitt was subsequently fired by his law firm, Obermayer Rebmann Maxell & Hippel.

The chief justice has since hired a second lawyer to determine where the $12 million spent on the project to date has gone. Castille controlled this money.

While Rotwitt was working with Castille on the Family Court project, he also appeared before the Supreme Court on issues involving the Foxwoods casino. But Castille never disclosed Rotwitt's ties to the court, and never recused himself from voting on matters surrounding Foxwoods.

Castille didn't always vote in favor of Foxwoods, but that doesn't make his failure to disclose the conflict proper. Castille says he never pays attention to the names of lawyers in cases. Even if you accept that, it makes no sense. How can he avoid conflicts if he doesn't know who is involved?

In addition, Castille and Rotwitt played golf together. Castille's response: "I play golf with tons of lawyers." Whoa! This just went from bad to worse. What better way to influence the most powerful judge in the commonwealth than to host him for several hours at a posh country club? One must assume the chief duffer and his lawyer friends don't hack around Cobbs Creek Golf Club.

It's amazing that Castille doesn't see a problem in hiring a lawyer to work for the courts, play golf with him, and then allow the same lawyer to appear before him in court. In a nutshell, that's why Castille should step aside.

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