With an Inquirer writer pushing court officials for an explanation, Rotwitt met with Castille, then e-mailed him a suggested "clear statement of the facts": Yes, Rotwitt and Donald Pulver were codevelopers, the statement said, without suggesting it was any sort of problem.
Castille ordered it sent to The Inquirer as his own opinion - word for word as Rotwitt had written it, e-mails show.
In a Family Court saga filled with twists, there are few more jarring than court officials' shifting response to the revelations about Rotwitt's working on both sides of the courthouse deal.
A review of e-mails and other records from April, when Rotwitt's partnership deal first came to light, show that Castille and other court officials reversed themselves on the project within a month.
At first, they denied knowing such a partnership existed. Then they acknowledged it, but defended it. When the questions persisted, a court spokesman mentioned a famous libel judgment against The Inquirer.
Finally, Castille gave an interview May 18 and said Rotwitt had duped him. But that statement didn't come until after Gov. Rendell decided that the state would build the courthouse, effectively booting Pulver and Rotwitt from the project.
Asked to explain the changing answers, William G. Chadwick, a lawyer representing Castille, said the chief justice would have no comment.
Chadwick, a former Pennsylvania inspector general and once Castille's top deputy in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, said he wanted to deal with that issue as part of his own review.
Other court officials, citing Castille's and Chadwick's instructions, also declined to comment.
Rotwitt's explanation: Castille and other court officials knew all along about his deal with Pulver and never raised any objections until long after The Inquirer began asking questions.
"Why they would do this to me is beyond me, in light of everything," Rotwitt said in a May interview. "Everything was aboveboard."
The plans for the courthouse quickly unraveled in the spring after The Inquirer started asking questions about Rotwitt's side deal with Pulver. It was Rotwitt who had revealed it, in an almost offhand remark.
At the time, the courthouse project, nurtured through three years of behind-the-scenes lobbying and discussions, was close to being complete. Plans were nearly done. Rendell was preparing to release $200 million in state funding to build it.
On April 7, Inga Saffron, The Inquirer's architectural critic, covered a Philadelphia Art Commission hearing on the project. She had already written one column criticizing the courthouse design as too bulky and bland.
Afterward, she asked Rotwitt to clarify his role in the deal. Rotwitt told her that he was 50-50 partners with Pulver on the development side. She said she was stunned; Rotwitt had identified himself at an earlier hearing as a lawyer for the courts.
Saffron reported that in a column April 9. The next week, she began to ask follow-up questions about Rotwitt's codeveloper role.
Court officials struggled to provide clear answers.
"I see him more as a broker," said David C. Lawrence, Philadelphia courts administrator, adding that until then, he had considered Rotwitt as an agent for the courts.
He also declined to comment Friday.
As a follow-up on April 16, Castille spokesman L. Stuart Ditzen sent Saffron a copy of a Pulver letter, written a month before, that seemed to deny that Rotwitt was a codeveloper.
It said Rotwitt was "working with" Pulver, but was not a partner in Pulver's firm, Northwest 15th Street Associates.
Pulver had written that letter after Philadelphia Parking Authority officials, hearing rumors, asked him if it was true that he and Rotwitt were codevelopers. They said Pulver had denied it; they later said they viewed the letter as misleading.
Pulver contends that they misunderstood him, that he was just trying to make it clear that Rotwitt wasn't involved in his company.
Saffron said the letter had made little sense, given Rotwitt's statements to her.
"I thought it was more of a red flag," she said.
On April 21, Rotwitt said, he met with Castille and advised him that the best strategy on dealing with the questions was to simply acknowledge that Rotwitt was now a codeveloper.
"She's under the impression that there's some skulduggery here," he said he had told Castille. "I think this thing could be put to rest if you issue a simple, straightforward statement of what happened. He said, 'Fine.' "
Rotwitt said Castille hadn't expressed any surprise or asked any questions.
"I can't speak for anyone else, but the facts speak for themselves and show a consistent history of disclosure by Jeff Rotwitt," Catherine Recker, his attorney, said Friday.
Later on April 21, Rotwitt sent Castille an e-mail with his three-paragraph version of events: Pulver and Rotwitt were indeed working together as developers, it said, and there was no conflict because Rotwitt's search for a courthouse site had been over by the time he made his deal with Pulver in 2008.
"After speaking with the chief, I have just forwarded the statement to Inga," wrote Ditzen, the courts spokesman and former Inquirer reporter, in an e-mail to Castille, Rotwitt, and Lawrence.
"I attributed the statement to him [Castille]."
The questions from Saffron intensified. On April 27, Ditzen sent another e-mail, saying he had spoken to Lawrence about Rotwitt's work.
"In his view, there is no conflict of interest in Rotwitt's current role as codeveloper," Ditzen wrote, saying again that Rotwitt simply had switched roles.
"Further, it is Dave Lawrence's view that Rotwitt was a key person who pulled the Family Court project together and, against the odds, helped to make it to reality," Ditzen wrote. "He says that without Rotwitt's involvement the project probably would not have happened."
Two days later, after an increasingly contentious e-mail exchange, Ditzen bluntly warned Saffron to be careful of her facts.
"I don't know whether you are familiar with Sprague v. Walter," Ditzen wrote. In that 1973 case, lawyer Richard Sprague won a multimillion-dollar verdict against the newspaper for publishing articles that questioned whether he had quashed a homicide case as favor to a friend.
Sprague said editors hadn't heeded his warnings that the reporter, the late Greg Walter, was biased against him.
"You might consult with those at the paper who are familiar with the lessons of that case," Ditzen wrote, adding that Saffron needed to give Castille an opportunity to respond to any allegations of wrongdoing.
"I very much saw it as a brushback pitch," said Saffron.
Ditzen declined to comment Friday, citing Castille's and Chadwick's instructions. In a May interview, he said he wasn't involved in the project directly and was relaying answers from Lawrence and Castille. He also said he was not trying to mislead or intimidate the newspaper; he said court officials had not immediately understood the issue posed by Rotwitt's dual roles.
On April 30, Castille sent Saffron a longer statement defending Rotwitt's hard work on the courthouse project without addressing the lawyer's deal with Pulver. Castille also questioned Saffron's objectivity, noting that she had criticized the project design in her column.
"It strikes me as odd that an architectural critic should be analyzing the funding of the project, but so be it," Castille wrote.
At that point, Inquirer editors assigned the story to reporters on the news staff, deciding that Saffron, in her role as a critic, should remain separate from news accounts on the project's finances.
Meanwhile, the news of The Inquirer's questions about Rotwitt had reached the Rendell administration - relayed by John Estey, a lawyer representing Castille, state officials said. Estey, Rendell's former chief of staff, had been hired in part to make sure that Rendell released the $200 million courthouse appropriation.
On April 30, Rendell was supposed to come to Philadelphia to announce he was releasing the money. But the announcement was postponed. A Rendell spokesman, Gary Tuma, said the governor had wanted to wait until The Inquirer published its article on Rotwitt.
Before that, though, Rendell made up his mind:
"The governor made it clear we will not release any money for this project if there's any kind of conflict of interest," said Donna Cooper, his secretary for policy and planning.
The news conference was reset for May 21. Three days before that, Castille finally granted an interview.
While continuing to praise Rotwitt - "the guy did a tremendous amount of work" - Castille for the first time said he thought Rotwitt's role as a developer was a probable conflict.
"It's divided loyalties," Castille said. "He's the one that we're depending on to say these prices are good. The question is, is he doing it for us, or is he doing it as a codeveloper?
"There's a definite potential problem with the rules of professional conduct," he said.
Overall, Castille agreed to a $3.9 million payment to Rotwitt's law firm, Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, and $7 million in fees and costs to Pulver. Before the deal was killed, Obermayer received more than $1 million. Rotwitt said he had gotten about $500,000 more as his share of Pulver's developer's fee.
Castille said he no longer had any confidence that the amounts were justified.
After that, the deal fell apart in lightning fashion. The newspaper published a long article about Rotwitt's role on May 21, the day Rendell announced the state would take over the project.
The Parking Authority stripped Pulver of his development rights. Rotwitt's law firm fired him, and the FBI began a criminal investigation into possible fraud.
Now the project can't go forward until the courts resolve who owns the architectural drawings - bought with nearly $6 million in court funding.
In a May 20 e-mail, as The Inquirer was preparing to publish its long article about the Family Court deal, Ditzen sent reporters one more Castille statement.
This time, Castille rejected all of Rotwitt's arguments - including ones that he had sent as his own words a month earlier. He dismissed as "puzzling" Rotwitt's main defense, that his work for the courts had been over by the time he signed on with Pulver.
The earlier statement said Rotwitt had been acting like a broker; by May 20, Castille said he had always considered Rotwitt as the courts' attorney.
"We put our faith in him," Castille said.
Contact staff writer Joseph Tanfani
at 215-854-2684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.