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Centre County Asks Court to Dismiss DA's Lawsuit

by on April 15, 2015 6:45 AM

Centre County wants District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller's lawsuit thrown out of court.

Attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer, who represents the county through its insurance program, already went head-to-head with Parks Miller at a court hearing earlier this month, where the two women seemed to get things off to a less-than-friendly start. Now Maierhofer is taking aim at Parks Miller once again in new court documents filed on Monday, arguing that the court should dismiss her lawsuit against the county.

Parks Miller filed suit against the county and the Shubin Law Firm last month, alleging the county broke the law and violated her privacy by releasing some of her cell phone records to the Shubin firm in response to Right to Know requests. Attorneys for the Shubin firm, among others, have unsuccessfully tried to use those records to have Parks Miller removed from certain criminal cases.

Parks Miller wants the court to declare that the county was wrong to release the records, to force the Shubin firm to either return or destroy the records received, and to force the county to pay for attorney's fees and compensatory damages. Two county judges have filed similar lawsuits against the county, and seek virtually identical relief from the court.

But Maierhofer says Parks Miller's requests "are inconsistent and violate the laws of this Commonwealth."

Though she doesn't go into great detail about how the requests violate Pennsylvania law, other attorneys involved in the case have raised First Amendment concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is currently representing the Shubin firm against Parks Miller's lawsuit. ACLU-PA legal director Witold Walczak has argued that forcing his clients to return lawfully obtained records would be a "prior restraint" of their freedom of speech, which may overlap with Maierhofer's position.

Centre County Solicitor Louis Glantz has previously told StateCollege.com that the county released the records because they involved county employees on county-funded phones - making them public financial records. Parks Miller and the two judges who are suing the county disagree with this position, at least partly because the Right to Know law reportedly doesn't allow for the release of partial telephone numbers.

In her response to Parks Miller's lawsuit, Maierhofer writes that the county can not be forced to pay any damages or fees because state law requires the county to release public financial records when they are requested.

Maierhofer also argues that it's unclear whether Parks Miller is suing in her official capacity as Centre County District Attorney or simply as individual. Since publicly elected officials are typically subject to a lower expectation of privacy than most people, Maierhofer argues that it's important to know the capacity in which Parks Miller has filed her suit.

Parks Miller's lawsuit also alleges that county officials reviewed her confidential work emails, which she claims is a violation of the Criminal History Records Information Act. In response, Maierhofer argues that Parks Miller only mentions this in passing without making "a proper legal claim," meaning the court has nothing to act on.

Maierhofer asks the court to dismiss Parks Miller's lawsuit and to keep her from filing a similar suit in the future.

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com 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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