Attack in Atlantic County courtroom raises safety concerns

An Atlantic County public defender who was assaulted by her client during a hearing says she will be back to work Friday.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a public defender,” Mary Linehan told BreakingAC a day after she suffered a slight separation of her right shoulder in the attack.
Robert Fountaine was charged with simple assault on Wednesday.
Linehan was assigned to represent Fountaine in a murder case in which he’s charged with fatally stabbing his Atlantic City neighbor in February.
Fountaine kept telling the judge he didn’t want Linehan speaking for him, but Wild insisted he let his attorney finish. At one point he said, “I don’t give a f—,” and then rushed at Linehan.
The sheriff’s officers were able to get a hold of Fountaine, but the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defendant “dragged them across the room to get to me,” she recalled
It was Assistant Prosecutor Sevan Biramian who pulled her to safety, Linehan said.
As a defense attorney, Linehan noted “I hassle (Biramian) daily on behalf of my clients but he gets that it’s my job, and he jumped when needed.”
She said she was pinned.
“He’s the real deal,” she said of Biramian, adding that “the cops were epic.”

The incident raises questions about safety in the courtroom.
“The attorneys that practice criminal defense in this county are incredibly disturbed by the events that occurred (Tuesday),” Northfield attorney Steve Scheffler said.
“Defense attorneys are extremely vulnerable in court,” Atlantic City attorney James Leonard Jr. said. “Sometimes, by nature of the individuals we represent, we are standing next to potentially dangerous or mentally unstable individuals who are often times receiving news that they don’t like. This can create a very volatile situation and sometimes it erupts. What happened to Mary Linehan is an example of that.”
Scheffler suggested that the Bar Association come up with a course of action that would include physical and awareness training.
“Lawyers need to become more aware of their surroundings,” he said. “Criminal defense is, by nature, high pressure work. Stress and emotion levels are high and people can snap.Today’s society seems to foster disrespect and hate. Unfortunately, attorneys are an easy target and for the most part unprotected from physical attacks.”
Scheffler also suggested changing the statute that caused Fountaine to be charged only with simple assault.
“They need to revise the statute to put it on same level as assaulting an officer,” he said.
Under the current statute, such an attack on an officer would have risen to aggravated assault.
“Unlike law enforcement, attorneys are unarmed and most have zero training in self-defense,” Scheffler noted.
Fountaine was to have a first appearance via video on the simple assault charge Wednesday, but refused to come, a corrections officer told the judge.
Because of the incident, no one from the Atlantic County Public Defenders Office now can represent Fountaine in his murder case.
“At the end of the day, this ultimately is this idiot’s loss,” Leonard said, “because Mary is one of the most passionate and effective advocates for her clients. Now, by losing his temper, he loses her.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Mary Linehan represents Ferdinand Augello at his murder trial last year.

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