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Castor Wants County to Pay for Parks Miller Defense

by on August 27, 2016 5:00 AM

Acting Attorney General Bruce Castor wants Centre County to pay $126,175 for his work defending District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller during a grand jury and local investigation into whether she forged a judge's signature. reported earlier this week on an invoice and letter sent by Castor to County Solicitor Elizabeth Dupuis seeking payment, which he offered to discount by 20 percent to $102,075 if paid by July 29. The correspondence and response, in which DuPuis said the county is not responsible for paying for Parks Miller's defense in the case, were uncovered through an open records request by Simon Campbell of Yardley, Pa.

“We offered to discount the cost because it was a public service, and we billed Centre County for it,” Castor told Billy Penn. “Centre County has declined to pay us.”

Castor -- who was appointed solicitor general in March, then first deputy to AG Kathleen Kane before her conviction and resignation earlier this month -- wrote that the investigation of Parks Miller "arose in the performance of her duties as the County's chief law enforcement officer," and that government agencies must pay for the defense of officials under investigation. He also said Parks Miller had no choice but to hire outside counsel because the county government advanced an investigation while the OAG was already conducting one.

"The obligation of the government to stop paying for an accused public official's legal defense ends when the accused public official is charged, which of course did not happen here," Castor wrote.

Castor began representing Parks Miller in January 2015, when the allegation and investigation first arose. The billing submitted to the county includes February through December of 2015. He also was appointed by Parks Miller as special assistant district attorney in April 2015, but he is not billing the county for that work, nor is he billing for his representation of Parks Miller in a Right-to-Know lawsuit and civil suits.

He did not include the details of the specific work done, however, in case a court wishes to review it if Castor has to sue the county for payment. He told Billy Penn he hopes it does not come to that.

But Dupuis' response rejected Castor's request for payment. She said the law Castor cited requiring government payment of officials' defense didn't apply to the grand jury investigation of Parks Miller, saying it only applies in instances where an action is brought due to damages resulting from injury to a person or property. She also noted that it was Parks Miller's request that began the grand jury investigation, so the county could not have been responsible for giving rise to a criminal inquiry.

Dupuis also argues that Parks Miller was required by law to make a written request if she wished for the county to provide for her defense. A January 2015 letter Castor cited -- which told the County Commissioners that since the OAG had taken over the case, they had no authority to appoint a special investigator -- did not constitute a request for the county to provide for her defense.

Dupuis goes on to say that the Centre County District Attorney is insured under a policy through the National District Attorney's Association, and that it appears her expense could be covered under that policy.

St. Vincent College professor and Pennsylvania Constitution expert Bruce Antkowiak told Billy Penn that he knew of no statute that would require the county to cover a public official's legal costs in this situation without a mutual agreement.

Parks Miller was first accused of forging Judge Pamela Ruest's signature on a fake bail order as part of a sting operation in the investigation of a jailhouse murder plot against former Assistant District Attorney Nathan Boob. Parks Miller's former paralegal, Michelle Shutt, told defense attorney Philip Masorti and signed an affidavit that her former boss had forged the judge's signature, leading Masorti to bring the complaint forward. Parks Miller referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General when questioned by Bellefonte Police.

County commissioners later prompted a police investigation after the case had been turned over to the OAG, and Bellefonte Police executed a search warrant on Parks Miller's office. 

The grand jury ultimately concluded last year that there was no evidence to charge Parks Miller and that Ruest, who said she couldn't remember if she'd signed the bail order, had signed it. Unnamed sources told The Legal Intelligencer earlier this year that Kane directed her office that the grand jury investigation should not result in charges against Parks Miller, whom the sources described as Kane's friend.

Parks Miller subsequently filed a civil law suit against county officials and local defense attorneys alleging that personal and political animosity motivated them to conspire against her. Most of those claims have been dismissed by a federal judge. Shutt, meanwhile, filed a civil suit against Parks Miller in July for defamation and retaliation. 

Castor is likely to see his tenure as Acting Attorney General come to an end as soon as next week. The state senate is scheduled to convene on Tuesday to consider Gov. Tom Wolf's appointment of former deputy AG Bruce Beemer as Attorney General to fill out Kane's unexpired remaining term.

The winner of November's general election for AG between Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican John Rafferty will take over the office in January.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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