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DA Group Attacks County Commissioners' Position in Parks Miller Forgery Case

by on February 25, 2015 6:00 AM

Another heavy hitter just joined the ongoing conflict between the Centre County Commissioners and the Centre County District Attorney.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) filed a brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday, arguing that the county commissioners and Bellefonte police department overstepped their authority by investigating forgery allegations made against Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General filed in the supreme court last week, making a nearly identical argument. Both offices argue that only the OAG has the appropriate jurisdiction to investigate criminal allegations made against district attorneys.

“We feel that the way the Centre County Commissioners have proceeded in this matter is not consistent with state law, so we felt it was important to get involved and make our voice heard,” says PDAA executive director Richard Long.

In an affidavit dated Dec. 30, 2014, Michelle Shutt -- a former paralegal to Parks Miller -- alleges that she witnessed Parks Miller forge a judge's signature on a fake court order. The forgery allegations were made public at a January county commissioners meeting when two State College attorneys presented the commissioners with Shutt's affidavit.

In response, Bellefonte police began an investigation and searched Parks Miller’s office. The commissioners also discussed the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor if the police department recommended filing charges against Parks Miller.

But Parks Miller went to the state’s highest court, arguing she was the victim of an illegal search that had been motivated by personal and political disagreements with the commissioners. She also said she had forwarded the allegations to the OAG before they were made public, which is corroborated by the OAG’s supreme court filing.

In response, attorneys for the commissioners argued that Bellefonte police could have “concurrent jurisdiction” with the OAG while the offices conduct side-by-side investigations. They used parts of the Pennsylvania County Code as justification, citing statutes that allow citizens to go to court to allege that a district attorney has neglected the duties of their office.

But both the OAG and PDAA say the county code has been superseded by the more recent Commonwealth Attorneys Act of 1980, which first created the OAG.

“The provisions of the County Code relied upon by [the commissioners] in support of their assertion of authority to investigate and/or prosecute an elected district attorney do not grant such power,” the PDAA’s filing reads. “Nor do they grant… the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to try charges that may brought against [Parks Miller].”

Bruce Castor, an attorney for Stacy Parks Miller, says the question of jurisdiction is one of statewide relevance with important legal implications. Though the supreme court initially dismissed Parks Miller’s petition, Castor says the filings from the OAG and PDAA may convince the court to reconsider the matter.

“It’s a lot more powerful argument when it’s coming from representatives of people from the entire state as opposed to a single DA in a single county,” Castor says.

John Abom, an attorney for the commissioners, says the PDAA adds “absolutely nothing new” to arguments already made before the court. Abom also points out that no criminal charges have been filed and that the commissioners never formally asked the Centre County court to appoint a special prosecutor. 

“What none of the litigants, other than the Commissioners, ever address is the fact that no action has even been taken under the County Code in this case. Prosecutors are attempting to stop something that has not occurred,” Abom says in an email. “Until a petition is filed under the County Code provisions, we argue that the issue is not ripe for a decision.”

Castor says the supreme court could decide to reopen Parks Miller’s filing for reconsideration, or it may decide the case is not ready to be ruled on.

Long adds that the PDAA files several briefs each year in cases that may be of statewide legal significance.

 

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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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