DA accuses attorney of breaking law

BEDFORD – Authorities in Bedford County charged a Pittsburgh defense attorney this week with handing a cellphone to a client in a court detention room.

District Attorney Bill Higgins said Thomas Crawford, representing accused criminals at May 1 Central Court hearings in Everett, handed the cellphone to Michael Patrick Crawley, a Bedford man charged with aggravated assault. Pennsylvania law counts providing phones to prisoners as a first-degree misdemeanor.

Reached at his office Wednesday, Crawford said he barely remembers giving Crawley a phone.

“That’s not even illegal. It’s Central Court,” he said. “It’s the way I’ve done it a thousand times.”

Central Court refers to the weekly roundup of preliminary hearings for Bedford County’s accused, usually conducted at Magisterial District Judge Kathy Calhoun’s Everett office.

Because Crawley was waiting in a holding cell, Higgins said he counts as a prisoner. State law says it’s illegal to give a cellphone not just to jail inmates but to those in detention facilities and mental hospitals, as well.

Crawford said he handed Crawley the phone for just a moment, so the prisoner could tell his mother how his bail would be handled. Higgins said sheriff’s deputies saw the exchange, grabbed the phone and returned it to Crawford before reporting the incident to prosecutors.

“The law applies to Mr. Crawford the same as it does everyone else,” Higgins said Wednesday.

Higgins said such charges against lawyers are exceedingly rare, especially in Bedford County.

“Most attorneys comply with the law,” he said, laughing. “Most attorneys have more respect for the law.”

Higgins and Crawford share a bitter relationship, going back to at least 2008, when Crawford represented a woman who accused the district attorney of sexual assault. Those charges were later dismissed, but the two attorneys have sparred repeatedly in the courtroom since.

Higgins denied any suggestion that the cellphone charge was motivated by his feelings toward Crawford.

“It’s just business. The guy broke the law; he’s going to be punished,” Higgins said.

Representatives at Calhoun’s court office said they haven’t yet mailed summons to Crawford’s Pittsburgh address for a scheduled Sept. 18 hearing. Crawley has not been charged for possessing the phone, also a misdemeanor.

Crawford hadn’t heard of the charges as of Wednesday, he said.

“I guess Higgins wants to do something,” he said. “Whatever.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.