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Parks Miller Faces Disciplinary Hearing

by on August 18, 2017 5:07 PM

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller will face a disciplinary hearing in November.

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has scheduled the hearing for Nov. 29 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. According to the board's online records a petition for discipline was filed on Feb. 22.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed the petition to the board, charging that Parks Miller committed professional misconduct in sending emails and text messages to judges about six cases without informing defense attorneys involved and in creating a fake Facebook profile to obtain information from the accounts of defendants and witnesses.

Parks Miller has previously denied wrongdoing in both her communications with judges and in creating the Facebook account.

Both are also part of the controversies that have dogged the district attorney over the past several years and yielded a series of court battles between Parks Miller, Centre County, county officials, defense attorneys and others.

She and her office were accused of having an improper relationship with a county judge after a Right to Know request revealed text messages between prosecutors and the judge. Parks Miller sued the county arguing that it overstepped its bounds in releasing text message records.

During the 2014 trial of Jalene McClure, a home daycare owner accused of assaulting a five-month-old child, members of the DA's office communicated by text message with former Judge Bradley Lunsford. McClure was convicted, but that decision was later vacated and a new trial ordered on other grounds.

A Clinton County judge ruled in December that there was no evidence the text messages impacted the outcome of the trial and an assistant district attorney testified her communications with Lunsford were not about the case.

The new trial is still pending and a filing in the case earlier this year brought up the fake Facebook page, which had been rumored for more than two years. An email from Parks Miller to her staff indicated the page had been created to "befriend defendants or witnesses if you want to snoop."

Parks Miller responded to the issue at the time citing an ethics board expert who said that deception is ethical "when there is a legitimate and defined purpose for using deception to uncover stop and prevent criminal activity."

She said that covert activities are a regular part of investigations, and that the only ethical prohibition is for prosecutors to talk to represented individuals about their cases, which she said her office has not done. Parks Miller added that no one in her office ever used the account to friend a defendant or witness.

The misconduct charges in the petition allege the account was used to connect with a represented defendant.

McClure's attorney, who raised the text message and Facebook issues, is Bernie Cantorna, who defeated Parks Miller in May's Democratic primary while also winning the Republican write-in vote, making him the county's new DA come January.

The McClure case is among those referenced by disciplinary counsel in both the ex parte communications charges and the Facebook matter.

Cantorna filed a motion in October 2014 for Lunsford to recuse from the case, saying the judge was a personal friend of the DA and that they had communications by text message, phone calls, social media and social interactions outside the courthouse. Parks Miller responded saying that there was no proof of what Cantorna alleged.

Lunsford, meanwhile, said there were no emails or text messages between him and Parks Miller about that or any other trial. The petition said Parks Miller made "false and/or misleading statements" and knew Lunsford's claim was false and failed to correct it. They had exchanged 89 text messages between May and October of 2014, according to the petition.

"[Parks Miller] engaged in professional misconduct by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation," disciplinary counsel wrote.

A similar charge stems from a November 2014 case.

The petition charges that earlier that year, in May 2014, Parks Miller sent an email only to Lunsford in which she informally objected to a hearing for an SCI-Benner inmate who had filed complaints about prison staff. Lunsford replied to her saying he would cancel the hearing. Disciplinary counsel said Parks Miller "engaged in conduct which undermines the integrity of the judicial system and is prejudicial to the administration of justice," and that in failing to inform Lunsford the communication was ex parte she "knowingly assisted Judge Lunsford in conduct that is a violation of the applicable Rules of Judicial Conduct."

When disciplinary counsel brought the concern to Parks Miller in 2015, she reportedly acknowledged that the email should not have been sent to Lunsford and that it was sent "in frustration." She said the information should have been included in a proper motion.

Also in May 2014, at a hearing related to a rape case, Parks Miller allegedly sent two text messages to Lunsford and ADA Nathan Boob. The entirety of the text messages could not be recovered, the petition says, and Lunsford ruled in favor of the prosecution at that hearing.

When the concern was brought to Parks Miller nearly a year later, disciplinary counsel also asked for all text messages between her and Lunsford. She reportedly replied that no text messages were sent between her and Lunsford regarding any pending criminal matter and that she did "not have access to any of the text messages at issue."

The concern was revisited in 2016 and Parks Miller reportedly responded that she had no recollection of sending the two text messages. She said she recalled a group text message but did not recall Lunsford being the intended recipient.

Parks Miller is also accused of an ex parte email to Lunsford during a 2013 case asking for an order to be rescinded related to bail in a rape case. It had come after an email that copied defense counsel, and after the concern was brought to her, Parks Miller said she was unaware the defense had been left off of the second email.

In another May 2014 case, disciplinary counsel said that the day after a conviction in which the defendant was out on bail pending sentencing, Parks Miller sent 15 text messages to the presiding judge, Jonathan Grine, which were deleted and only the first 30 characters could be recovered. Six specifically related to the case, according to the petition.

The fake Facebook page, meanwhile, was created in May 2011 using the name "Britney Bella." When disciplinary counsel first brought the issue to Parks Miller in 2015, she reportedly said that she did not recall sending the email to staff saying they could use it to "snoop" on witnesses and defendants. She said the accounts "exclusive purpose" was to "facilitate the self-identification of the sellers of illegal and highly dangerous synthetic drugs and paraphernalia."

Three stores were raided as a result, Parks Millers said, but disciplinary counsel said they believe those raids occurred in 2012. The Facebook account remained active afterward and was used to search for individuals who had no connection to drug-related activity, the petition says. Using the Facebook page was "dishonest and deceitful" and violated rules of professional conduct, disciplinary counsel wrote.

They allege that in August 2012 someone from the DA's office used the page to friend a man who was charged with simple assault and harassment earlier in the year and who was at the time represented by a public defender.

In November 2012, the same day the McClure case was transferred to the Court of Common Pleas, the "Britney Bella" account was used to search for Jalene McClure and her three sons' names. A friend request was then sent from "Britney Bella" to McClure and at least one of her sons, neither of whom accepted it, according to the petition.

Disciplinary counsel identified 27 individuals who are friends of the "Britney Bella" account and have criminal records which are not drug-related. Eight others have drug-related criminal records, and four are relatives of individuals with criminal records. Two individuals with active criminal cases against them were sent friend requests, according to the petition.

"By employing the 'Britney Bella' Facebook account, [Parks Miller] engaged in conduct which undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system and is prejudicial to the administration of justice," disciplinary counsel wrote.

Apart from the texting and Facebook cases, Parks Miller filed a civil lawsuit in 2015 against a dozen defendants, including Cantorna, after accusations that she had forged a Judge Pamela Ruest's signature on a fake bail order as part of a sting operation. A grand jury recommended no charges against Parks Miller after handwriting experts concluded that the signature was Ruest's.

Parks Miller's suit charged defamation and other counts and was dismissed in U.S. Middle District Court last year. Her subsequent appeal has been mostly dismissed, with the exception of one claim against a former paralegal, who signed an affidavit stating Parks Miller had forged the signature.

She has alleged the forgery allegation was the result of a history of animosity toward her and that Cantorna's involvement was politically motivated.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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