Attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, the lawyer who earned fees on both sides of a deal to build a new Family Court building in Center City, was fired Thursday by his law firm.
Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP announced the firing a day after Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille killed Rotwitt's deal to develop a $200 million Family Court tower at 15th and Arch streets.
The project is still moving forward, with the state serving as developer. But there is no way of telling whether the state will recover any of the millions in fees already paid out to Rotwitt and his partner, Conshohocken developer Donald W. Pulver.
"We have to figure out who got paid what," Castille said in an interview Thursday. "Our lawyers are going to get to the bottom of that. We will take the appropriate action when we learn the facts."
Rotwitt has spent 35 years at Obermayer, a Philadelphia-based firm with 125 lawyers that has long been a big-money player on Pennsylvania's political scene. Last year, the firm contributed a total of $175,000 to statewide campaigns.
Rotwitt has said in recent interviews that he has done nothing wrong. He said he became a codeveloper of the Family Court building with Pulver only after his work find sites for Castille had ended.
He said he has been up-front and open about his involvement in the project and is now being made a scapegoat. He has also said that he was not paid as a lawyer by the courts, but as a broker.
Rotwitt was hired in 2006 by-then Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman to find a site for a new courthouse to consolidate Family Court operations in Philadelphia. Originally, Rotwitt was supposed to be paid a commission, after a deal was done.
But after Newman left the court, Castille in 2008 signed off on a $3.9 million fee for Rotwitt, and the courts started making $55,000 monthly installment payments to him. Obermayer has already received a total of about $1.3 million.
But Rotwitt also has earned around $500,000 in additional fees as a codeveloper on the same project, in a handshake deal with Pulver, who now also wants to distance himself from the attorney.
Pulver sent Rotwitt a letter Thursday ending his partnership with Rotwitt's Deilwydd Property Group FC L.L.C.
Obermayer's partners say Rotwitt never told them that he had a deal with Pulver to codevelop the Family Court building.
"The management committee had no knowledge of Mr. Rotwitt's involvement as a developer of the proposed Philadelphia Family Court Facility until the investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer," the firm said in a brief statement.
Castille also said he never knew Rotwitt was a codeveloper until The Inquirer reported it.
"If he's collecting money on the side, I don't think I'd be too happy," Castille said of Obermayer's decision to fire Rotwitt.
"The guy's grabbing a half-million dollars that should have gone to the law firm," he said.
But Rotwitt said that everyone knew about his deal with Pulver - Castille, other court administrators, the court's lawyers, major development firms and particularly his partners at Obermayer.
"The record is clear," Rotwitt said in an interview last week.
"The world of the city knows it ... the realty community, the construction community, the design community, minutes of meetings, drafts of documents, signed documents, it goes on and on and on," he said.
Rotwitt, 59, is owner of the Kixx indoor soccer team and a partner in a $85 million deal - backed by $10 million in state funding - to build a movie studio in Chester Township.
Involved in number of other high-profile real estate transactions, Rotwitt was a member of Obermayer's management committee and was its biggest earner, said his spokesman, Kevin Feeley.
"I think Jeff's view is, in light of all the publicity over the past week he understands the firm's decision," Feeley said.
Rotwitt has provided copies of documents that he sent to the courts stating that his firm, Deilwydd Property Group FC L.L.C., was codeveloper of the Family Court building. He also acknowledged he was codeveloper in an interview with The Inquirer last month that triggered the current controversy.
Rotwitt and Obermayer in 2003 were involved in another unusual real estate deal - this one the subject of a critical state grand jury report.
In early 2003, Haverford Township commissioners were looking for help in finding a developer for the 212-acre site of the old Haverford State Hospital. A faction of the board, meeting in secret, decided to hire Rotwitt and Obermayer, according to the grand jury report.
The terms: Obermayer would receive $7,500 a month and 6 percent of the sale when the deal closed. Rotwitt sent developers requests for proposals, and the board eventually made a deal for $30.6 million.
That meant Obermayer and Rotwitt were due for a fee of $1.8 million. But Obermayer chairman Martin Weinberg, a onetime mayoral candidate in Philadelphia, didn't want to wait for the money, the report says, and told Rotwitt to press for an advance payment before the end of 2003. Without any public vote, commissioners decided to pay Obermayer $600,000.
After the payment surfaced, Rotwitt and Obermayer gave the money back. Rotwitt says that money was not an advance on the fee, but payment for other legal work on the project; the grand jury report calls that "a ruse."
Weinberg did not return requests for comment.
Weinberg and former Justice Newman began dating five months after she hired Rotwitt in 2006. They were married at the beginning of 2007, and the marriage was annulled later that year.
Newman says her personal ties to the firm had nothing to do with her decision to retain Rotwitt.