Pennsylvania Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

FJD lawyers file contempt petition against former Pa. Justice Newman relating to legal malpractice case

By Jon Campisi | Aug 22, 2012

Richard sprague

Lawyers representing the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania in its legal malpractice

suit against an attorney who represented the court system in its failed attempt to secure a location for a new family court facility have filed a petition for contempt against a former state Supreme Court Justice who is involved in the litigation.

Attorney Richard A. Sprague filed the contempt petition earlier this month against Sandra Schultz Newman and her lawyer, Gene Cohen.

In the filing, Sprague says the FJD’s attempts to get Newman to turn over certain case materials as part of a subpoena issuance have been fraught with problems.

“The FJD’s efforts to obtain Justice Newman’s full compliance with the Subpoena are tortured, highlighted by her innumerable delays, plainly fabricated attempts to avoid her deposition through claims of ill-health, repeated assertions of a non-existent privilege, and broken agreements, all culminating in a deliberate and willful violation of this Court’s clear order to turn over all documents responsive to the FJD’s Subpoena,” the contempt petition reads.

“ … Through their deliberately calculated gamesmanship of the discovery process and willful defiance of this Court’s orders, Justice Newman and Cohen have caused needless, inordinate delay and have caused the FJD to incur substantial costs and expenses in pursuing Justice Newman’s full compliance with the Subpoena for which they both must be held accountable.”

Newman was originally subpoenaed back in late November of last year. The FJD sought Newman’s deposition as well as papers and electronic communications that are said to be in her possession related to the botched family court deal.

The FJD and Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille filed suit last October at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court against attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt and the firm for which he formerly worked, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP.

Rotwitt had been retained by the FJD to scout out a potential site for a new Family Court building.

In its legal malpractice claim, the FJD alleges that Rotwitt had failed to divulge his relationship with the developer on the project.

The court system claims it was a conflict for Rotwitt to collect fees from both the FJD and the project’s developer.

Newman is involved in the case because she was the state Supreme Court’s liaison justice when the Family Court project first began.

Castille, who is a co-plaintiff in the case, is the high court’s current liaison justice on the project.

In subpoenaing Newman, the FJD seeks to find out what the former justice new about Rotwitt’s involvement with the developer.

Newman’s son, Jonathan, also formerly worked for Obermayer Rebmann.

Newman initially didn’t answer her subpoena on the claims that she had an undisclosed illness. Other delays soon followed.

This spring, Newman filed a motion for protective order seeking to have the judge overseeing the case block her deposition on the grounds that she had “deliberative process privilege” dating to her days serving on the high court.

A judge subsequently denied Newman’s motion and ordered her to answer the subpoena.

In the contempt petition, Sprague asks the court to impose a fine of $10,000 per day on both Newman and Cohen until they comply with the subpoena.

The petition also seeks to have Newman ordered to provide the hard drives from any computers that Newman used to access her email account, along with her email password.

The FJD seeks to have its information technology experts conduct their own search for saved and possibly deleted emails relating to the subpoena.

Finally, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking a judge to award the FJD all costs and attorney’s fees incurred in bringing the petition for adjudication of contempt, together with the costs and lawyers’ fees previously incurred in obtaining Newman’s compliance with the subpoena.

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