In the News

Lawyers intrude in PA cases

The Altoona Mirror
September 4, 2012

The Blair County criminal justice system is under attack.

It is coming from the federal government, specifically through the federal public defenders’ office in Pittsburgh.

Federal defenders sat in Blair County Court on Thursday to observe a hearing on Andre Staton’s request to represent himself in his post-conviction appeal of his conviction for the 2004 murder of Beverly Yohn.

Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed a death warrant for Staton, but the warrant has been stayed by a Blair County judge.

Attorney Tim Burns of Ebensburg traditionally handles post-conviction appeals in Blair County and is a highly competent attorney. Burns was appointed to represent Staton over Staton’s objections.

It seems very clear that the federal defenders, who met with Burns after the hearing, are just chomping at the bit to jump in for Staton’s defense.

It is not the first time the federal government has improperly stuck its nose into a Blair County death-penalty case.

Federal public defenders muscled their way into the defense of William Wright III, who faces the death penalty for the Thanksgiving 1998 killing of James Mowery of Altoona.

Wright wanted to drop all appeals and fire his attorneys, but Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter earlier this summer ruled that he is not competent to make those decisions.

It has been rare for Blair County attorneys to be hit with one of the worst monikers an attorney can receive by an appeals court: ineffective counsel.

It is a slap in the face of Blair County prosecutors and defense attorneys to have the system usurped by the federal defenders who appear to be working with an anti-death penalty mindset.

The federal government overstepping its reach and interfering with a county court system is unconstitutional, based on Article III of the U.S. Constitution. There is no provision that allows federal attorneys to jump into a state criminal case.

Blair County judges must put their foot down and not allow the federal defenders to interfere in our courts, even if that means not allowing to be appointed as counsel.