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Commissioners 'Uncomfortable' With DA's Appointment of Personal Attorney as Special Prosecutor

by on April 14, 2015 1:35 PM

The Centre County Commissioners have weighed in on the Centre County District Attorney’s decision to appoint her personal attorney as a special assistant prosecutor – and they are none too happy about it.

DA Stacy Parks Miller appointed her attorney, Bruce Castor, a former district attorney and current county commissioner in Montgomery County – as a special assistant district attorney last week.

According to Castor’s oath of office, he has been appointed to deal specifically with “cases involving efforts to disqualify the District Attorney of Centre County and her assistants from prosecuting cases.”

Parks Miller is currently suing Centre County for releasing some of her cell phone records in response to Right to Know requests, and is represented by Castor in her litigation against the county.

Centre County Commissioner Chris Exarchos says he’s “extremely uncomfortable” with Castor serving two roles for Parks Miller – one of which is for the county, and one of which is against the county.

“Whether there’s a direct conflict here or not, in my book this doesn’t pass the smell test,” Exarchos said at the Centre County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

Castor has previously told StateCollege.com that state law permits district attorneys to appoint special assistants to deal with specific tasks as needed.

He also said he doesn’t view his two roles as a conflict of interest, noting that ADAs often have private practices in addition to their public work. He also said it’s misleading to try to compare civil litigation to criminal cases, calling them “apples and oranges.”

Commissioner Steve Dershem said the commissioners have consulted with their attorneys about their concerns, but declined to share any details of that conversation.

Castor has also previously told StateCollege.com that he can petition the Centre County salary board (which includes the county commissioners) to be compensated for his work as a specially appointed ADA.

Dershem said the commissioners have not yet received a petition to pay for Castor’s services with the DA’s office. Exarchos also said that Castor’s appointment is “totally different from the county’s employment process,” meaning the salary board may not be obligated to pay Castor if he isn’t technically a county employee.

Exarchos said that the commissioners were not notified beforehand of Parks Miller’s decision to appoint Castor and had no input in that process, though he says she is within her rights to appoint a special ADA.

“Ms. Parks Miller is an independent elected official who doesn’t answer to us,” Exarchos said. “She was elected by the voters of this county, and she needs to answer to the voters.”

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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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