When Sandra Schultz Newman was a Pa. Supreme Court justice, she hired real estate law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel to help move along a project to build a new Family Court building in City Center. Now that she’s left the bench and is in private practice, it appears that her choice of lawyers was intended to direct a large amount of cash to her son, a lawyer working at the firm.
Newman’s son, Jonathon Newman, apparently introduced Jeffrey B. Rotwitt to mother Justice Newman, in an assignment ultimately was worth $3.9 million to the law firm. Rotwitt was reportedly on both sides of the deal to build the $200 million courthouse, earning fees as the court’s representative, and also as co-developer of the project.
When the Philadelphia Inquirer learned of the conflict and ran its story on it, the deal fell apart, and the state took over development of the project.
After Justice Newman stepped down from the court and went into private practice, she sent an email to the Obermayer firm in March 2008, asking the firm to pay her son a finder’s fee of 20%, which amounted to $780,000. “He brought you the case with my being present,” wrote Newman. “I had never heard your (firm’s) name. I trust you will do the right thing.”
Sandra Newman said she didn’t hire the Obermayer firm to funnel cash to her son. “It may have that appearance, but it wasn’t true,” she said, despite critics agreeing that the transaction was suspicious.
The state Ethics Act makes it illegal for public officials to use their offices to benefit relatives. But the Supreme Court has conveniently ruled that the law does not apply to its justices or to any other Pennsylvania judges.
To son Jonathon Newman’s credit, he refused the fee, saying “It didn’t feel right.”