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Attorney General Says Bellefonte Police, County Commissioners Overstepped Authority

by on February 20, 2015 6:00 AM

The Centre County Commissioners and District Attorney have been fighting in the state supreme court for weeks, and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General just stepped into the ring.

According to a Thursday filing in Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the OAG believes that the commissioners and the Bellefonte police department overstepped their authority by starting an investigation into Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

“…under the circumstances presented, the Office of the Attorney General is the sole entity in Pennsylvania with the authority to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute the alleged crimes on the part of Parks Miller,” Chief Deputy Attorney General James Barker writes in the filing.

Stacy Parks Miller allegedly forged a judge’s signature on a fake court order, according to an affidavit signed by her former paralegal. Parks Miller has denied the allegations.

Parks Miller says she reported the allegations to the OAG before they were made public at a January meeting of the county commissioners. The OAG’s filing with the supreme court specifically mentions this report, confirming that Parks Miller forwarded the allegations to the OAG before January.

After the allegations were brought up at a public meeting by two State College attorneys, Bellefonte police began an investigation and seized several items from Stacy Parks Miller’s office. In response, Parks Miller filed her supreme court petition.

Parks Miller asked the state’s highest court to intervene in what she described as an illegal investigation and political conspiracy motivated by past disagreements with the commissioners.

Two of the three commissioners – Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos – responded through their attorney. They argued that no conspiracy existed and any suggestion otherwise is intentionally misleading. 

The commissioners also argued that Bellefonte police could have side-by-side jurisdiction with the OAG, claiming that both offices could conduct parallel investigations. Their reasoning was based on a section of the Pennsylvania County Code that allows any citizen to go to court to allege that a district attorney has neglected the duties of their office.

The OAG disagrees with that argument, and writes that the “Bellefonte Borough Police Department has agreed to cease its investigation.”

In the supreme court filing, Barker writes that the county code conflicts with the more recent law that first created the OAG – the Commonwealth Attorneys Act of 1980. Parks Miller previously made similar arguments in her own court filings. 

The OAG says Bellefonte police can’t conduct the investigation because they work closely with the office of the district attorney, which could cause bias over the course of an investigation.

Pennsylvania State Police could investigate allegations into a county district attorney under normal circumstances, but the OAG says the particular nature of this case prevents state police from getting involved in the forgery allegations. 

The alleged forgery involved a bogus court order from 2013 that falsely appeared to lower the bail of an inmate in the Centre County Correctional Facility. According to court documents, the inmate in question was a police informant who had reported a plan to murder an unnamed district attorney. The fake court order was reportedly intended to make it look like the informant had been released, when he had actually been transferred to a different jail.

The OAG says that state police were involved in the investigation into the reported murder plot, which would constitute a conflict of interest if state officers were to investigate the forgery allegations. Because of this, Barker writes that the OAG is the only “non-conflicted entity” with the authority to investigate Parks Miller.

The OAG filing asks the supreme court to file an order explicitly stating that only the OAG has jurisdiction in this investigation.

Bruce Castor, an attorney for Stacy Parks Miller, says the OAG’s filing supports his claim the commissioners are attempting to intimidate Parks Miller for political gain. He says this is an issue of statewide importance that could set an important legal precedent, depending on what the supreme court decides to do next.

“I believe that the supreme court should decide this issue once and for all, otherwise you’ll have commissioners in every county thinking they can run roughshod over district attorneys whenever they want,” Castor says.

John Abom, an attorney for the commissioners, did not return requests for comment for this story, but has previously suggested that it appears Parks Miller and the OAG are collaborating.

In an email written the day before the OAG filed in the supreme court, Abom pointed out that the supreme court had previously denied Parks Miller’s petition.

Parks Miller then had to ask the court to reconsider the petition in order to allow the OAG to state its case. Abom says this gives the appearance that the OAG is consulting with Parks Miller.

"If they are conferring, that would be highly inappropriate as that is the very same office to which she acknowledged she referred a report of her own alleged criminal conduct," Abom says. "She and the Office of Attorney General should not be consulting with one another about this matter and, if so, that development is troubling."

Castor says the application for reconsideration was a simple legal procedure that was required to reopen the case, and that any suggestion otherwise is intentionally misleading.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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