Gov. Rendell cleared the way yesterday for the long-awaited construction of a new Philadelphia Family Court, announcing that he had approved the release of $200 million in state money to build a 14-story tower at 15th and Arch streets.
The governor said the state would kick in $20 million more to help the city convert the current Family Court building - a stately but well-worn Parisian-influenced structure built in 1941 at 18th and Vine streets - into a museum and luxury hotel.
The announcement came the same day the Inquirer published a lengthy examination of a development deal for the plan, revealing a possible conflict of interest that has proven lucrative for one attorney.
Real-estate attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt is poised to pocket $3.9 million from the courts for scouting locations and lobbying for state money. He also had a deal with Donald W. Pulver, a Conshohocken developer with rights to the site, that netted him nearly a half-million dollars in fees paid by the courts, the Inquirer found.
Legal ethics experts say such a dual role is unusual and disturbing, because lawyers shouldn't hold a business interest in something that could adversely affect a client's interest, without the client's written consent.
Rotwitt had no such written consent, and state Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said he knew nothing of Rotwitt's dual role, according to the Inquirer.
Castille said yesterday that the courts "will renegotiate that particular agreement," but neither he or Rendell would say whether Rotwitt would be booted from the project. They said attorneys were reviewing the situation.
"We will make sure there is no conflict of interest in this deal, even if it means this gets slowed down," Rendell said.
The project will now be put out to bid in June, with the goal of identifying a developer by late summer, Rendell said.
Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for Rotwitt, said his client's dual role was "widely known."
"We certainly respect [Cas-tille's] role in bringing this project to fruition," Feeley said. "It wouldn't have happened without him. But the fact remains that Mister Rotwitt has offered numerous documents to the Inquirer that demonstrate his role as co-developer was widely known and that the whole process was above board."
The Daily News couldn't reach Pulver for comment yesterday.
"There's been a crying need for this new facility," Castille said. More than 2,500 family members and staffers crowd daily into Family Court and an office building on 11th Street near Ludlow housing the court's domestic-relations unit.
Stories abound of battered women hiding in stairways or bathrooms to avoid abusive spouses while the women wait to be called to the courtroom, and of relatives unable to accompany loved ones into courtrooms because of limited space.