Moyler competency mulled

Published 7:59 am Friday, June 26, 2009

COURTLAND — The judge presiding over the cases of former attorney J. Edward Moyler Jr. has granted a defense request for a competency exam, to determine whether illness drove Moyler to steal more than $4 million from his clients’ estates.

Tom Watkins, the public defender representing Moyler, said Thursday in Southampton County Circuit Court that his client is recovering from hip replacement surgery and has numerous health problems, including prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He asked Judge John C. Morrison Jr. to approve a competency exam of Moyler, arguing that his client’s Parkinson’s disease may have been a factor in his actions.

“Obviously competency is a concern, based on the behavior that is alleged to have occurred,” Watkins said.

Moyler, who practiced law in Franklin for 54 years, is accused of taking more than $4 million from the estate of Lucille K. Steinhardt and three other clients while acting as executor of their wills. He faces nine counts of embezzlement. If convicted on each count, he could face up to 180 years in prison.

Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke said he had no objection to the competency exam, but said he had never heard of a case where illness drove someone to steal.

“I have never opposed (a competency exam) when it was asked for in good faith by the defense attorney,” Cooke said.

The prosecutor did urge Morrison to raise Moyler’s bond, which is currently set at $25,000. Moyler remains free on his own personal recognizance.

“From the Commonwealth’s perspective, that’s outrageous,” Cooke said of the bond amount. “We’re talking about more than $4 million. I think it’s outrageous and so does the community.”

Watkins said his client was not a flight risk.

“He has surrendered his license to practice law,” Watkins said. “He has cooperated completely, and he’s come to every meeting that he’s been asked to come to. There is just no indication that he’s a flight risk.”

Watkins said Moyler’s passport was not current, and that his only source of income was Social Security.

Morrison then ruled against increasing the bond amount, adding that in light of Moyler’s cooperation, “it would serve no good purpose to increase it.”

Moyler, dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and blue-and-red striped tie, sat quietly during the proceedings. He walked with a cane, and declined to comment outside the courthouse afterwards. His wife Carole and daughter, Rees Johnston, accompanied him to court.

Cooke objected to a second motion by the defense — to have a state forensic accountant investigate Moyler’s accounts to try and determine where the stolen money went.

“The defendant is in the best possible position to assist his attorney with that,” Cooke argued. “This will put an undue burden on the Commonwealth, and I oppose it.”

Morrison granted the request for a forensic accountant to look into the matter, but stipulated that the cost could not exceed $2,000.

“I don’t want to run wild over that because the Commonwealth has a point,” Morrison said.

Moyler’s arraignment was rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 3.