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Judge Denies Request to Remove DA From Rape Case Over Allegations of Bias

by on March 07, 2015 1:14 PM

Allegations of bias and misconduct on the part of Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller have not convinced a judge to remove her from a felony rape and trespassing case.

In court documents filed yesterday, defense attorney Sean McGraw accused Parks Miller of creating "a grave appearance of bias" by exchanging hundreds of text messages with Centre County Judge Bradley Lunsford over the past several months. He claimed the texts reflect an unprofessional relationship that prejudiced the court against his client Justin Blake, who faces felony charges of rape, assault, trespassing and burglary.

McGraw asked visiting Clinton County Judge J. Michael Williamson (who is now presiding over the case) to remove Parks Miller as the lead prosecuter, to force Lunsford and Parks Miller to have their phones inspected to determine the contents of the text messages, to dismiss the rape and sexual assault charges, to lower Blake's bail and to allow Blake a new preliminary hearing.

In an order filed later the same day, Williamson lowered Blake's bail to its original amount of $30,000 and scheduled a new preliminary hearing for Wednesday, March 11. However, the judge denied every other request.

"Thankfully, the Judge was unpersuaded by the meritless motion and we should be picking a jury in this serious case this term," Parks Miller says in an email.

Parks Miller says the text messages do no reflect any kind of bias or misconduct from either her or Lunsford. She says she and the judge often discussed their work on the Criminal Justice Advisory Board through text messages, and would often have after-hours communications about search warrants, protection from abuse orders and other appropriate work-related topics.

In court documents filed in response to McGraw's allegations, Parks Miller suggests that McGraw violated the rules of professional conduct for attorneys by make false accusations without sufficient evidence.

McGraw says the ruling accomplishes exactly what had hoped for, giving Blake the chance to dispute some of the more serious charges at his new preliminary hearing. The rape and sexual assault charges were added after Blake's original preliminary hearing, but McGraw and Parks Miller disagree about that decision.

"Though the judge declined to dismiss the charges, he in fact granted the relief that we originally requested in front of Judge Lunsford," McGraw writes in an email. "...We requested that the case be remanded for a preliminary hearing due to a serious breakdown in procedural due process. We could not be more pleased with Judge Williamson's ruling."

However, he still calls the timing of the emails "highly suspect." McGraw says that, in his experience, the number of communications between Lunsford and Parks Miller far exceeds what's needed for court business.

Lunsford has not been involved in the Blake case since December, when an order from the Centre County President Judge barred him from hearing any criminal cases except DUI's. When contacted by StateCollege.com, Lunsford explained that judges are not permitted to offer public comment on court proceedings.

Blake's felony charges stem from an incident from State Patty's Day weekend 2014, in which he allegedly broke into a woman's apartment and fondled her while she slept. 

In an unrelated story, Parks Miller has been accused of forging a judge's signature on a fake court order, which she denies. The forgery allegations were made through an affidavit signed by Michelle Shutt, a former paralegal to Parks Miller. McGraw, in addition to his role in the Blake case, also serves as one of Shutt's attorneys.

Multiple sources say the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General is investigating the forgery allegations, but the OAG has repeatedly declined to comment on the status or existence of any investigation.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. to include comment from McGraw.



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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