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DA Parks Miller Attacks County Officials, Defense Attorneys in New Lawsuit

by on August 28, 2015 5:13 PM

The complicated tangle of lawsuits and allegations in Centre County just became even more complex.

Making good on a promise made last month, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller has filed a defamation lawsuit against practically everyone involved in the controversies that have embroiled the county government and courthouse over the past eight months.

In a detailed civil complaint filed in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas on Friday, Parks Miller takes aim at Centre County; County Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos and Michael Pipe; county solicitor Louis Glantz and county administrator Tim Boyde; Michelle Shutt, Parks Millers' former paralegal who signed an affidavit accusing her of forgery; Centre County Common Pleas Judge Pamela Ruest in her capacity as an individual; and local defense attorneys Phil Masorti, Bernard Cantorna, Andrew Shubin and Sean McGraw.

The Allegations

She accuses the defendants of taking part in a personally-motivated conspiracy to ruin her personal and professional reputation by making, supporting and publicizing false allegations that she forged Judge Ruest's signature and texted judges during trials in order to influence cases.

"The motive for the concerted attack was, and continues to be, Plaintiff's unyielding tough stance on crime and adherence to law," the complaint reads. "Evan after the plan was exposed, the wrongdoers refused to take any steps to ameliorate the extensive injury done to Plaintiff Parks Miller." 

Parks Miller claims her former paralegal knowingly made the false accusation that she forged Judge Ruest's signature. She claims Cantorna and Shubin wrongly brought the false allegation to the county commissioners, who acted outside the scope of their authority by pressuring Bellefonte police into conducting an investigation when the allegations had already been referred to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.

She says the commissioners also contravened state law by hiring a law firm to act as a special prosecutor against her. She also accuses Judge Ruest of lying about not remembering that she had signed her own name to the alleged forgery.

The lawsuit also relates to the Right to Know lawsuits being fought over Parks Miller's phone records that were released to various defense attorneys by the county. Parks Miller says the county broke the law by releasing the records, and that the attorneys named in her suit wrongly used the records to accuse her of "conspiring to 'fix' criminal cases" with county judges.

Parks Miller says each defendant has a personal motive against Parks Miller, such as losing numerous cases in court to her, their tangential involvement in past criminal investigations, and disagreements about public policy.

She accuses the various defendants of defamation, inflicting injurious falsehood, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy, abuse of process and negligence. She is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees.

The Response

Centre County's attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer says she is still reviewing the complaint, and says a detailed response is forthcoming. However she also says "the County and its representatives have not done anything illegal, immoral or improper," and maintains that the county properly responded to all Right to Know requests for records involving Parks Miller.

County Solicitor Louis Glantz incredulously expressed disbelief about the lawsuit, suggesting the allegations are far-fetched.

"Basically, she's saying all these people, some of who don't even know each other, got together as part of a big plan to hurt her?" Glantz said. "Really?"

Andrew Shubin, who works alongside Sean McGraw, frames the issue as one of civil rights and free speech. He says this lawsuit "is no different" than other legal battles his firm has fought in the past.

"We're used to fighting big, powerful people. We've seen this before, and we will see it again," Shubin said. "We fight on behalf of first amendment rights, and on behalf of the right of people to criticize their political leaders. Those are the principles we stand for at this firm."

Masorti declined to comment for the time being. Ruest and Cantorna could not be reached for comment. Commissioner Dershem deferred comment to the county's attorney.

Commissioner Pipe noted that he was only sued in his official capacity as a commissioner, whereas the other two commissioners where sued in both their individual and official capacities. He declined to speculate on why this might be the case, saying that decision was made by Parks Miller - but also noting that he was the only one the three commissioners who has called for Solicitor Glantz's resignation.

Pipe also reaffirmed the importance that the commissioners maintain a working relationship with the district attorney's office, especially because the the commissioners and the DA have to work together on a number of boards and committees.

"We still have the public's work to do, and I will do everything in my power to continue to have a healthy relationship with the district attorney and her office," Pipe said.

Parks Miller's attorney, Bruce Castor, suggests that the lawsuit and related controversies could be influential on the upcoming November elections, in which all three commissioners are seeking reelection.

"As the evidence mounted, I became more convince than ever of a widespread concerted effort to destroy the career of DA Parks Miller with the motivation being to retaliate against her and her office for winning cases and being more politically popular than the commissioners," Castor said. "If one of the [Republican] majority commissioners [either Dershem or Exarchos] is voted out of office, the whole administration goes. And I believe that needs to happen before Centre County rights itself.” 

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:30 p.m. to include comment from Michael Pipe. 

Parks Miller's complaint can be read in its entirety below.

 

Stacy Parks Miller Aug. 28 civil complaint



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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