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Appellate lawyer decked in court by handcuffed death-row client sues county for damages

Posted Nov 19, 2013 4:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A Pennsylvania lawyer who was decked in court by a handcuffed death-row inmate while working as a contract appellate lawyer earlier this year has sued Blair County for damages.

Plaintiff Timothy S. Burns, 40, lost consciousness briefly when he was knocked to the floor by his client at the counsel table and suffered serious health problems, including a heart attack, after the May 13 incident, according to his lawsuit. He is alleging that court security procedures were inadequate and seeking damages for negligence, the Altoona Mirror reports.

Then-client, Andre Staton, 50, was wearing handcuffs attached to a waist belt when he "sucker punched" Burns by swinging his arms in what the newspaper called a "baseball bat fashion," another Altoona Mirror article reported at the time. The blow struck Burns, who had been getting up from his chair and turning toward his client at the conclusion of a hearing, squarely in the forehead and eyes. The lawyer collapsed, falling onto a chair and breaking it, before hitting the floor.

Filed by attorney Robert P. Petyak, the suit says Burns still has not recovered from his injuries, which include headaches, dizziness and post-traumatic stress. It contends that the court's security measures were inadequate, allowing Staton, who was known to be violent, to clasp his hands and swing them toward his attorney. The client should have been cuffed with his hands behind his back, the complaint suggests, and he should have been electronically monitored and kept farther away from Burns by courtroom deputies.

The article about the lawsuit doesn't include any comment from county officials.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Cuffed client decks lawyer with ‘baseball bat fashion’ punch during death-penalty hearing"

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer decked at court hearing is still unable to work 6 weeks later; client charged in assault"

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