As Philadelphia court leaders celebrated the ceremonial "topping out" of the last steel beam for a new family courthouse in Philadelphia, Sheri L. Phillips, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, reported that state capital funds to pay for furnishings, fixtures and equipment for the building still must get approval.
Phillips told The Legal the furnishings, fixtures and equipment are included as an item in the current capital budget for public works, and that she hopes the budget will be approved by the General Assembly by June 30.
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said during the ceremony Thursday that the building almost did not get built, apparently referencing the controversy over attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt’s roles as the court’s tenant representative and as a co-developer.
The court hired a "crack attorney" but then had to fire its "crack attorney," Castille said.
Castille also stressed the importance of support from Harrisburg to use state funds to pay for a city courthouse, including Governor Tom Corbett’s decision to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Governor Edward G. Rendell, in releasing capital funds for the courthouse’s construction.
Castille also said that U.S. Representative Bob Brady, D-Pa., who also is the chairman of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia, was instrumental in resolving a dispute among contractors that also could have hung up the project.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty, administrative judge of the family division, and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Margaret Murphy, supervising judge of domestic relations, each said that the building would not have happened without Castille.
Murphy said that Castille accepted her invitation to tour the inadequate facilities for domestic relations cases in a building that used to house a department store and a community college. Castille came on a city bus early to the courthouse to watch the flow of people into the building from a nearby coffee shop, Murphy said.
"We’ve been a somewhat dysfunctional family court bringing together dysfunctional families, and that is not a good advertisement," Murphy said.
But, while families will still be under stress when coming to court, they will come to a good environment when the new courthouse opens, Murphy said.
The new courthouse, which is being built to unify juvenile and domestic relations cases in one facility, is slated to open at 15th and Arch streets in Center City in June 2014.
The steel beam that topped off the building, as it reached its maximum height Thursday, was mounted with an American flag and a fir tree. The fir tree is a custom associated with Scandinavia and has been described as perhaps symbolizing bringing life to the building.