Judge overseeing FJD's legal malpractice suit orders former Pa. Supreme Court justice to sit for deposition

By Jon Campisi | Jul 6, 2012

After much legal wrangling, the specially appointed trial court judge overseeing the First

Judicial District’s lawsuit against an attorney who represented the Philadelphia courts in its botched family court project has ordered a former state Supreme Court justice to give a deposition in the matter.

Common Pleas Court Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr., who is handling First Judicial District of Pennsylvania v. Rotwitt, filed an order June 29 that compels former Justice Sandra Schultz Newman to give a discovery deposition on July 11, 13, 16 and 18 at the law offices of the plaintiffs’ attorney.

The plaintiffs in the case are the First Judicial District, also known as Philadelphia’s court system, as well as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.

Castille is named as a co-plaintiff because of his role as liaison justice to the family court project.

The meat of the lawsuit has to do with attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt’s apparent dual role with regard to the family court project.

The FJD had brought Rotwitt on to help secure a location for a new family court building in downtown Philadelphia, but things fell apart after it was discovered that Rotwitt was also allegedly earning fees as a co-developer on the project.

The family court location has since changed to 15th and Arch Streets, and it is being built for millions of dollars less than was originally expected, according to local media reports.

Schultz Newman, a Philadelphia-area attorney and former state Supreme Court justice, was the original high court liaison on the family court project prior to Chief Justice Castille’s involvement.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that Schultz Newman has documents in her possession that relate to the legal malpractice lawsuit against Rotwitt and the law firm he used to work for, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.

An LLC run by Rotwitt, Deilwydd Property Group, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The FJD seeks to find out what Schultz Newman new about the family court deal while Rotwitt was involved, but efforts to have her sit for a deposition have proved problematic, as the former justice has claimed she has been busy with everything from vacation to doctor appointments.

The latter has been a particular point of contention, with FJD lawyers getting antsy to know what medical ailment has been preventing Schultz Newman from sitting for a deposition.

On June 12, high-power Philadelphia attorney Richard Sprague, who represents the FJD, filed legal papers seeking to have Judge Wettick, a specially appointed judge from Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, order Schultz to sit for a deposition.

Wettick finally ruled on that motion late last week, stating that Schultz Newman must appear for a deposition on those four days in July or she could be held in contempt.

“Plaintiff may file a motion for a rule to show cause why this witness should not be held in contempt of court if this witness fails to appear,” Wettick’s order states. “In any contempt proceeding, a witness who fails to appear has the burden of offering evidence that would justify the failure to appear …”

The plaintiffs’ legal team was clearly growing impatient with Schultz Newman’s continuing to blow off the subpoena to give her deposition.

In the June 12 motion to compel, Sprague wrote that Schultz Newman’s “failure to provide an update of the evidence of the legitimacy of her latest excuse for not appearing, coupled with the long period prior to that when she simply made herself unavailable, and her utter failure to explain why she has not produced any documents in response to the Subpoena, all demonstrate inexcusable bad faith.”

Sprague wrote that a judicial order was necessary to compel Schultz Newman to sit for her deposition since her lawyers had continually rebuffed the plaintiffs’ efforts to subpoena her.

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