HOLLIDAYSBURG - The Blair County courts have hit a logjam because popular Altoona defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey has so many high-profile cases, not only in Blair but in Cambria and Huntingdon counties, according to statements by a county judge and officials at a hearing this week.
Dickey reportedly is defense counsel in four homicide cases, one in Cambria County that has been underway for a week, two in Blair County and one in Huntingdon County.
In addition, Dickey is the attorney for Stephen M. Piner, 54, of Altoona, the last major defendant scheduled for trial in the Operation Last Call drug cases.
Speaking of his cases, Dickey said, "We're ready. We're always ready."
He contended he is not part of the problem.
Each case represents a relatively long trial, and Blair County judges want to begin trying their cases because time is a factor in each situation.
Dickey, for instance, is the attorney for Paul Aaron Ross in a death penalty case involving the murder of a Hollidaysburg woman, Tina Miller, 26, a decade ago.
Ross was tried and convicted in 2005 and sentenced to life, but Dickey helped prepare an appeal, and Ross won a new trial.
The new trial order became official late last year, and Blair must retry Ross within a year - unless the defense can convince the judge to continue the case.
President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva just a week ago set jury selection for Ross to begin Nov. 18, with testimony to follow Dec. 1.
Ross was to be tried beginning in October, but that date had to be continued so the prosecution and defense attorneys could complete review of their cases by several expert witnesses.
Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron entered the picture at this point, stating the continuation of Ross cleared time to try Piner, who has been in prison nearly three years without trial.
Piner's case was delayed because his attorney, Ed Blanarik of Centre County, requested a pretrial double-jeopardy review of the many drug charges against Piner by the Superior Court
Dickey became Piner's attorney after Blanarik died in early 2013.
On Aug. 18, the appeals court supposedly sent the Piner case back to Blair County for trial.
But, Dickey isn't ready to talk about trying Piner in October.
He contends that the Piner case isn't really back in Blair County yet. He says it won't be back locally until the case physically arrives in the Blair County Prothonotary's office.
He said he still has time to file another appeal or to file pretrial motions.
But his primary point is that Blair County can't make decisions about Piner because the local court
doesn't have jurisdiction until the case is returned locally.
Milliron, in an unusual move, convened a hearing for Stephen Piner on Thursday because he said continued delay in the case could mean that Piner would be eligible to be released from prison on nominal bail because his speedy trial rights were in jeopardy.
The judge asked Piner and a Dickey associate, attorney Kristen Anastasi, if they would waive Piner's speedy trial rights.
The alternative, Milliron said, would be to relieve Dickey from the case and appoint another attorney so the case could move to trial.
Piner said he wants Dickey to continue as his counsel and agreed to waive his speedy trial rights for at least the next five months. Anastasi agreed also to the waiver.
Milliron then issued an order for jury selection in the Piner case to begin Jan. 26, with three weeks of testimony to follow.
He reasoned that the new date should give Dickey time to both prepare for and try the Ross death penalty case and then prepare for the Piner trial.
However, there is another complication because Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz wants Dickey to try a first-degree homicide case in Huntingdon at about the same time.
Dickey is representing Maria Coleen Boyd, charged with murdering her six-week-old son in 2010.
Milliron requested Blair County Court Administration officials contact Judge Kurtz to determine Dickey's schedule in that county.
Lost in the shuffle is the first-degree homicide case against Hugo "Juice" Baez of New York.
Dickey has been representing Baez, who is accused of gunning down Willie Solomon, 22, at Choices Nightclub in Altoona last Halloween night.
That case is expected to be ready for trial when Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle decides several pretrial issues.
Baez has been in the Blair County Prison 10 months without trial.
Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows said Friday no trial date has been set for Baez.
Dickey for the past week has been in trial in Cambria County, representing Demetrius Gibson of Johnstown in the stabbing death of his wife.
After Friday's court session, Dickey said he wished he had been able to attend the Stephen Piner hearing that was held Thursday.
He explained that he is prepared for trial in all of the cases he is involved with.
But, with respect to Piner, he said, "You can't try a case that's up on appeal," repeating his argument that the case, at this point, is not under the jurisdiction of Blair County.
Talking about Ross, he said the October date for trial had to be changed because the prosecution did not have all of its expert reports in hand, something that needs to be done before the defense can review it and respond.
He said he expects to try the Boyd case in Huntingdon County in January. He said that case shouldn't take too long to try.
As far as the Piner case is concerned, "We are close to ready to go."
But, he pointed out,"I've never had Piner in Blair County," referring to the fact he took over for Blanarik while the charges were on appeal before the Superior Court.
"A trial doesn't happen when they snap their fingers and they bad-mouth me. That bothers me," he said.
Milliron, in commenting on the situation during the Piner review this week said that "Mr. Dickey is a very talented counsel but he is too busy, and this happens all the time."
Milliron concluded Dickey is "overbooked."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.