Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille's solution to a glaring conflict of interest doesn't solve the problem.
Castille was right to remove the Ballard Spahr attorney he hired to determine how $12 million in public funds was spent on a proposed new Family Court building in Philadelphia.
Nothing against Ballard partner Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. The former federal prosecutor has a solid reputation and has done fine work on other high-profile cases.
But Hockeimer was placed in an untenable situation, given that Castille had previously hired Ballard Spahr to work on the Family Court project. The firm has been paid almost $500,000 so far.
The lead attorney for Ballard was John Estey, Gov. Rendell's former chief of staff. Estey was hired to work with Harrisburg officials on the "government relations" aspect of the Family Court project.
Rendell was key to the project since he has the power to release the $200 million in state funds that has been earmarked to build the court. Of course, Rendell spent two years at Ballard before he was elected governor. The firm paid Rendell roughly $500,000 for what he once famously admitted was very little work.
Ballard's role in the Family Court project has not come under question. But having a Ballard attorney determine how money was spent on a project that benefited the firm was a clear conflict.
So now, Castille has hired attorney William G. Chadwick, a longtime adviser and colleague, to trace the money. But Chadwick comes with his own conflicts.
He was Castille's top deputy in the 1980s, when the chief justice was the district attorney in Philadelphia. More recently, Castille gave Chadwick a $150,000 no-bid contract last year to determine how to improve the Philadelphia courts, which have come under scrutiny for their low conviction rates.
Chadwick, a former state inspector general, says he will follow the Family Court investigation wherever it leads, even if that means uncovering mistakes by Castille.
But will the public trust that Chadwick can conduct an impartial investigation, given his long relationship with Castille; his six-figure contract with the court; and the undisclosed amount he will get to investigate Family Court spending Castille has overseen?
That's why the judge should not be hiring anyone to conduct the investigation, given his role. Instead, he should have the state auditor general or IG investigate the spending, if he wants an independent inquiry.
Fortunately, for taxpayers, federal officials have begun a criminal probe. They have the resources, experience, and independence to get to the bottom of this mess.