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Attorneys engage in heated exchange in pretrial hearing

January 31, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - An ugly exchange between federal prosecutors and a defense attorney appeared to be on the verge of escalating into a physical confrontation at the end of a pretrial hearing Tuesday for a Martinsburg attorney indicted in December on a charge of criminal contempt.

In U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul T. Camilletti and William P. Moffitt, one of three attorneys for Heidi J. Myers, began verbally sparring over a subpoena issue after U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Joel denied three defense motions filed on behalf of Myers, 28, of 1314 W. King St., and deferred ruling on a fourth.

At one point, Pleasant Brodnax, another of Myers' attorneys, stepped in between Camilletti and Moffitt to head off any further escalation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O. Mucklow then jumped in the conversation.

"You get out of here," Mucklow told the defense attorneys. "You behave yourself."

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Outside the second-floor courtroom chambers, Moffitt said "this is a fight," anticipating it wouldn't be a typical legal battle in the weeks to come. A trial initially was set for Feb. 20, but it wasn't clear Tuesday whether that would remain on schedule.

Indicted on Dec. 13, federal officials said Myers failed to appear in U.S. District Court on Dec. 5 in Wheeling W.Va., and produce certain requested documents and other items. She has entered a not guilty plea to the charge.

Though not previously specified, Joel said Tuesday the government was interested in Myers' billing records, apparently from her work as a public defender. But Moffitt countered the subpoenas previously issued didn't specify as much.

"Unless the subpoena is modified, we're going to stand on the (right of attorney-client) privilege," Moffitt said, adding his client was obligated to protect her clients.

Myers' practice in Berkeley County includes work as a court-appointed attorney. As such, she and other lawyers routinely appointed by circuit judges are compensated by the state for their work. The executive director of West Virginia Public Defender Services previously has declined to comment about Myers' case.

In presenting arguments that the indictment should be dismissed, Moffitt said he and Brodnax both were unable to appear in court Dec. 5 with their client and that a third attorney Myers retained, Kevin D. Mills, was not hired until afterward.

"I thought at the time that Mr. Camilletti and I could reach some accommodation," Moffitt said, asserting his client's right to legal counsel.

Moffitt said he alerted the assistant U.S. attorney on Dec. 4 of the scheduling conflict posed by biweekly treatment of his medical condition, and was surprised by Camilletti's intent to push ahead with the proceeding.

Moffitt said subsequent attempts were made to alert presiding U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. of the medical conflict without success, but also noted that ethical rules should have compelled Camilletti to tell Stamp of their conversation.

"All we were asking was for a little bit of time," Moffitt said.

Camilletti didn't respond to Moffitt's ethics claims or the medical-related scheduling conflict, but noted no evidence was presented in support of the defense motion to dismiss the indictment. Joel also denied motions to quash the grand jury subpoenas and unsealing of a search warrant affidavit and a warrant transcript.

Joel deferred deciding a motion to unseal the grand jury transcript to Stamp, saying he didn't have the power to do that.

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