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Law Firm Wants DA's Lawsuit Against County Dimissed

by on April 30, 2015 10:59 AM

Another State College law firm is firing back at Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller's lawsuit against the Centre County government.

In new court documents filed Thursday, State College defense attorney Bernard Cantorna of the Bryant and Cantorna Law Firm asks the Centre County Court of Common Pleas to dismiss Parks Miller's suit. Cantorna is listed as a defendant alongside Centre County and the State College-based Shubin Law Firm.

Cantorna's attorneys write that Parks Miller's suit is an attempt by a public official to "restrain public criticism of her conduct in office." Similar to arguments previously made by the Shubin Law Firm, Cantorna argues that the lawsuit raises First Amendment concerns and does not make a compelling argument that Parks Miller's right to privacy was violated.

Parks Miller filed her suit last month, alleging that the county illegally released her work phone records to local law firms in response to Right to Know Requests, only to have those records wrongly used against her in court. She claims the records were confidential judicial records (instead of public financial records, as the county has claimed), and that the county violated her privacy by releasing them.

Cantorna disagrees, claiming the records are of public interest because they reveal a relationship between certain judges and prosecutors that Cantorna has argued is unprofessional and may have biased the court against one of his clients.

Cantorna first submitted several Right to Know requests to the county last October, asking for records of any communication between the District Attorney's office and Common Pleas Judge Bradley Lunsford. Cantorna received edited phone records that show Lunsford, Parks Miller and an assistant district attorney had been in frequent contact during the trial of convicted child abuser Jalene McClure.

Cantorna unsuccessfully used those records to try to have Lunsford removed from the case. In Thursday's filing in the Parks Miller lawsuit, Cantorna also says that Lunsford claimed that there were no text messages between himself and prosecutors, contradicting the records the county provided.

Parks Miller wants the records either returned or destroyed, but Cantorna argues that would violate his First Amendment right to free expression. He also points out that the records have been publicly filed in the McClure case, which Cantorna says makes the request to have them returned a moot point.

A hearing in Parks Miller's lawsuit has been scheduled for May 13 at 9:00 a.m. in the Centre County Courthouse Annex.

Two county judges -- Jonathan Grine and Kelley Gillette-Walker -- have also filed separate, but very similar lawsuits against the county, claiming the release of phone records violated their privacy. A hearing in those suits was held earlier this month, but the lawsuits remain unresolved.

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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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