Public defender says Parks Miller response violates decorum order

A public defender is asking President Judge Thomas King Kistler to quash a response to his request to lower the bail of one of his clients, citing a violation of civility guidelines used by Centre County Court.

The document in question is a response written by District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller to a request for bail modification filed by public defender Richard Settgast, attorney for Adam Hinton, a Taylor Township man accused of thousands of counts of possessing and disseminating child pornography.

Hinton has been held at Centre County Correctional Facility since charges were filed in lieu of $100,000 bail since his arraignment in June. Settgast filed a motion last week asking a county judge to release Hinton on unsecured bail or that bail be lowered to a nominal amount.

Parks Miller opposed changing Hinton’s bail in a motion filed earlier this week.

Settgast entered a motion Tuesday requesting that Kistler quash that response because he argues portions of it are in direct violation of a “decorum order,” an order meant to outline standards of courtroom behavior and courtesy between lawyers and court personnel, signed by all four Centre County judges in October.

One of the passages mentioned that Settgast maintains violate the order reads that the “commonwealth takes no position concerning whether the author of the bail motion before the court comprehends” aspects of procedural rules regarding how bail is set or changed by district judges.

Settgast wrote in the motion that he would not object to Parks Miller filing another, reworded answer.

Parks Miller said the motion to get the commonwealth to take back the response is “silly and a waste of resources” and that district attorneys have a right to press legitimate arguments on behalf of crime victims, to include stating when another attorney is not correctly interpreting law and related facts.

“Such decorum orders are not made for the lawyers to hide behind simply because they may be sensitive to the frank and aggressive advocacy in the face of their dubious claims,” Parks Miller said. “Licensed attorneys who make statements that will necessarily be rebutted must be men or women of stronger fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate of advocacy.”

Settgast declined to comment on the motion Thursday, adding that “it speaks for itself.” He did say that all defense attorneys have a job to do when representing their clients.

“As public defenders, we don’t get to pick our cases or who we represent,” Settgast said. “It’s our duty to represent anyone who walks through our door, regardless of how we feel about the charges.”

It’s the first time the October decorum order has been mentioned in motions or litigation, Kistler said.

Centre County Court had previously used an order handed down by the state Supreme Court as a guideline for behavior, but Kistler said the judges decided to expand on that with the decorum order because of concerns over a decline in civility among members of the bar association in the criminal and family law arenas.

The order dictates that attorneys should act in a “civil, professional and courteous manner at all times before, during and after the legal process” and covers conduct like respecting opposing lawyers’ arguments, refraining from interruptions in the courtroom and abstaining from making disparaging personal remarks.

“We wanted to remind everyone that there is a standard we expect for civility and behavior,” Kistler said.

Kistler will hear arguments on both Hinton’s bail and the motion to quash the response on July 31.