Some witnesses have called him the person most responsible for the deadly 2013 Center City building collapse.
On Friday, the lawyer for Philadelphia architect Plato A. Marinakos Jr. worked to counteract that impression by focusing on Marinakos' contract limiting him to monitoring demolition of the vacant building that collapsed and crushed the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store.
Questioning Thomas J. Simmonds, who hired Marinakos to monitor demolition of the Hoagie City building at 2136-38 Market St., attorney Neil P. Clain Jr. focused not on the collapse that killed six people but on the words of Marinakos' contract.
Simmonds, 54, was a longtime top aide to New York real estate speculator Richard Basciano, who owned the Hoagie City building. Simmonds confirmed that Marinakos' contract with Basciano's STB Investments Corp. made the architect responsible only to monitor demolition, document the work in photographs, and recommend progress payments to demolition contractor Griffin Campbell.
Simmonds also confirmed that Marinakos' contract included a provision absolving him of any liability for the "acts or omissions" of Campbell.
Simmonds' testimony ended Friday after about 31/2 days on the witness stand, in the ninth week of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court civil trial of lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims of the disaster.
Testimony resumes Monday.
Simmonds has been the key witness in three days of defense testimony put on by Basciano's legal team.
Simmonds testified earlier that he learned property management "on the job" from Basciano. Basciano, 91, was friends with Simmonds' father and testified that he considered Simmonds "like a son."
Simmonds was among those sued by lawyers for the six killed and 13 injured in the June 5, 2013, collapse. He was dismissed as a defendant earlier this year.
Although Simmonds testified that he no longer works for Basciano, he said his legal bills have been handled by his former boss.
Simmonds' testimony generally followed a theme that is part of the strategy of all the defendants: shifting responsibility to someone else.
In that respect, Simmonds also has testified that Marinakos did not live up to his contract with Basciano and misled them about his and Campbell's qualifications to handle the demolition of several Basciano buildings in the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street.
Earlier witnesses have testified that Marinakos told Simmonds that he recommended hiring Campbell because he had "done lots of demolitions" and was the low bidder.
In fact, Campbell had demolished a few burned-out rowhouses, and neither he nor Marinakos had any experience razing a large commercial structure like the four-story Hoagie City building.
Marinakos himself testified that he drafted the contracts for Campbell and himself for the Basciano project.
Marinakos, however, said Campbell was responsible for the collapse because he hired an excavator to tear down Hoagie City rather than continue the behind-schedule hand-demolition of the building.
Campbell, in turn, said the demolition project was directed by Marinakos, and also blamed his excavator operator, Sean Benschop.
Lawyers for the Salvation Army, which is being sued for purportedly ignoring the growing danger at the demolition site next door and allegedly failing to warn store employees and customers, have blamed Basciano and STB for causing the disaster by negligently hiring an incompetent architect and demolition contractor.