Lawyer attacked by Staton resigns

The Ebensburg lawyer who was attacked by a client in May while arguing a case in Judge Elizabeth Doyle’s courtroom has resigned his position with Blair County.

Timothy S. Burns, 40, was court-appointed to represent indigent defendants who sought to have their convictions overturned on appeal.

At the time of the attack by death row inmate Andre Staton, 50, a Baltimore native, Burns was handling 26 appeals, many of them involving serious crimes.

Staton is on death row for the 2004 stabbing death of his estranged girlfriend, Beverly Yohn.

Yohn had acquired a protection-from-abuse order against Staton before he forced his way into the house where she was staying.

He was convicted of first-degree murder and then sentenced to death in 2006.

Staton has long contended that he didn’t know about the PFA order barring contact with Yohn.

Yohn’s death stemming from the violation of a PFA was an aggravating circumstance that led to the death sentence for Staton.

On May 13, Staton was in Judge Doyle’s courtroom, and, through Burns, he asked the judge to recuse herself from further hearing of his post-conviction appeal. He also asked that the judge permit him to serve as his own attorney, a request Burns objected to.

Doyle rejected both of Staton’s requests, and at the end of the hearing, Staton stood up, and although his wrists were cuffed and he was shackled to a security belt, he was able to swing his arms into Burn’s face and head.

Burns suffered a severe concussion.

A spokesperson in his law office said Wednesday he is still recuperating from the blow, and no date has been set for his return to his practice.

Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows reported Wednesday that Burns has submitted his resignation as a court-appointed appeals attorney for indigent clients in the Blair County court system.

President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said in an order Wednesday that Hollidaysburg attorney Paul M. Puskar will take over Burns’ appeal load.

Meadows said, however, that some cases on the appeal list may be assigned to other lawyers.

Puskar is an attorney with 38 years of experience.

He said Wednesday, “I am very sorry about what happened to Mr. Burns.”

He said that while he is honored Judge Kopriva thought enough of his ability to appoint him, he said, “I accepted this as a duty to the court.”

He said lawyers have the duty to step forward in time of need.

For now, Staton is serving as his own attorney.

Meanwhile, Staton faces several aggravated assault charges for his attack on Burns, including an assault by a life prisoner. That charge carries with it a life sentence.

Staton has a court-appointed attorney, Mark Zearfaus, representing him in the Burns assault case.