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Stacy Parks Miller Accuses Office of Open Records of Hiding Records

by on August 21, 2015 6:00 AM

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller is petitioning the Centre County courts for a hearing with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, claiming the state agency wrongly removed an opinion in her favor from its website.

But OOR Executive Director Erik Arneson says the missing opinion was simply an administrative oversight, and was added to the website as soon as the mistake was brought to his attention.

The opinion in question was handed down on July 12, and denies a request from non-profit organization Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR), which has been publicly critical of Parks Miller on its website. The labor reform group wanted Centre County to release phone records revealing contact between Parks Miller and two judges, and appealed their request to the OOR when the county did not respond.

The OOR denied the request, determining the records are judicial documents that the county has no authority to release - but Parks Miller says that document was not available to the public through the agency's website as of Wednesday evening.

StateCollege.com was initially unable to locate the document on the OOR website Thursday morning, but the record later appeared after StateCollege.com contacted the office for this story.

"The Final Determination in [the PFUR appeal] was never uploaded to the OOR website due to an oversight on our part. It’s there now, as it should have been all along," Arneson says in an email. "... We’re reviewing our internal processes and exploring ways that technology can be used to help prevent such human error in the future."

However, Parks Miller's attorney Bruce Castor says that's not how it went down.

"We know it was there, because the DA’s Office printed it off for me from the website while I was standing there," Castor writes in an email. "I find it fascinating that the agency dedicated to 'Open Records' has suppressed from public view a key opinion. Especially one written by the same official, addressing the same records who writes another opinion 180 degrees different a month later."

Stacy Parks Miller and Bruce Castor speak to the press after a May 2015 court hearing. (Photo by Michael Martin Garrett/StateCollege.com)

Castor and Parks Miller suggest that the alleged removal of the document from the OOR website is related to another OOR opinion in response to a request from David Crowley of the Centre County Public Defender's Office. Crowley unsuccessfully requested similar phone record from the county, prompting him to appeal to the OOR, which was granted in July.

This issue is especially complicated because Parks Miller and the two judges are suing Centre County for previously releasing these phone records to defense attorneys in response to Right to Know requests. An order from Huntingdon County Judge Stewart Kurtz has found that the phone records are judicial records, and prevents the county from responding to similar requests.

But Arenson says the two differing opinions are not in direct contradiction as Parks Miller has claimed. Although he admits there are some similarities between the two requests, he says that each request was worded differently and requested a different selection of records.

"Based on the evidence available in [the PFUR appeal], the OOR held that 'telephone billing records and text messages generated by judges' (emphasis added) are judicial records and, thus, not subject to the jurisdiction of the OOR," Arneson writes.

"In [Crowley's appeal], the request was for 'the Verizon Wireless Invoice Summaries for the County assigned cellular phone number…' (emphasis added) used by Judge Lunsford. Here, a preponderance of the evidence led to the conclusion that the records requested are county records, not judicial records."

However, Parks Miller argues in her petition that the two opinions are directly contradictory, which she says is "inconsistent" with case law, previous rulings from the OOR and with the language of the Pennsylvania Right to Know law.



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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