A hearing requested by a local attorney asking to be removed as court-appointed counsel in five cases involving indigent defendants was held Friday, even though those cases had already been reassigned to other attorneys.

Although the cases had already been reassigned by President Judge John C. Tylwalk to other attorneys, he decided to hold the hearing anyway. 

Tylwalk said he wanted to learn why Annville lawyer Tucker R. Hull believes he and attorneys in his office are not competent to represent indigent, or poor, clients in criminal-conflict-appointment (CCA) cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney at prevailing rates must be provided with a competent lawyer to represent them at no cost.

Normally, this means that indigent defendants get a public defender, paid for by the county where charges are filed. However, if the public defender has a conflict of interest – such as often happens when one crime leads to several arrests – the court can compel a private attorney to represent an indigent. Such “court-appointed” attorneys, who serve involuntarily, must also be paid by the county.

Citing the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, Harrisburg attorney Thomas B. Schmidt III, who was representing Hull and his associates, asked the judge to end the hearing because he had already granted their requests to withdraw from the cases, meaning there was no longer anything to be decided. 

After reviewing the law, Tylwalk agreed with Schmidt that there was no need to hold a hearing. 

At the start of the hearing, Tylwalk highlighted several of Hull’s reasons for requesting withdrawal from those cases and told the court that he believed those reasons to be irrelevant to the issue of competency. 

Tylwalk then reviewed all five cases, noting that in several accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) was requested and another wasn’t assigned a case number yet because the accused had an arrest warrant but had not been arrested for receiving stolen property. 

Tylwalk highlighted another case in which Tucker asked to be removed that involved post-conviction relief for a past conviction action that happened in 2014. 

In this matter, Tylwalk said he sent notice to Hull for a transcript for that case in May of 2020 and it was five months before Hull responded to him. Additionally, it was six months after he had been assigned to the case in April that Hull filed his withdrawal motion with county court in that matter.

Hull declined to discuss the issue with LebTown following the hearing. 

During the hearing, which was attended by about 30 people, Tylwalk expressed his disappointment on several fronts, including attorneys who file withdrawal motions and in the American Civil Liberties Union for sending him a letter notifying county court that its CCA system is not in compliance with the law that guarantees defendants’ rights to a competent attorney counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Tylwalk said that issue should be taken to and resolved by the state Legislature because Pennsylvania is one of only two states that does not provide funding to counties for their CCA systems. 

LebTown reported in November that the ACLU requested a meeting with Tylwalk to discuss Lebanon County’s CCA system, noting in the letter that complaints to their office have “raised serious concerns that the county’s practice of conscripting unwilling private attorneys who lack experience in criminal law or procedure to represent indigent criminal defendants violates the Sixth Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirements of effective representation and can result in irreparable harm to the accused.”

Tylwalk told LebTown in November that while there is no timetable to resolve this issue, he would prefer it be settled no later than the first part of 2023.

Read More: ACLU contends Lebanon County Courts non-compliant with the Sixth Amendment

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...