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Supreme Court Rejects Petition from Centre County District Attorney

by on March 03, 2015 10:28 AM

For the second time, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided not to get involved in an ongoing conflict between the Centre County District Attorney and the Centre County Commissioners.

On Monday, the state’s highest court rejected a request from District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller to reconsider a petition she first filed with the supreme court in January. The court first rejected the original filing last month.

Neither order from the high court specifies a reason for the denials.

Parks Miller’s supreme court petition stemmed from an allegation that she forged a judge’s signature on a fake court order – an allegation she denies. Parks Miller argued through court filings that only the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General has the authority to conduct an investigation.

The county commissioners countered by arguing that Bellefonte police could have “concurrent jurisdiction” in the case. They used part of the Pennsylvania County Code as justification, pointing to two sections that allow any citizen to approach a judge to allege that a district attorney has neglected the duties of their office.

“The posture for District Attorney Parks Miller’s case has immeasurably improved through this action, almost by accident,” says Bruce Castor, an attorney for Parks Miller. “When we filed our original action, it never crossed my mind that the Attorney General or the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association would want to get involved.”

Both the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and the PDAA filed briefs in the case in support of Parks Miller’s position, arguing that only the OAG has the authority to investigate criminal allegations involving district attorneys.

Castor says the fact that the petition was denied doesn’t matter because everything the petition was seeking has been already been resolved. The petition originally asked for the supreme court to keep Bellefonte police from investigating Parks Miller, and to force police to return items taken from her office during a search conducted in January.

Castor says that items taken by Bellefonte police have been returned by the OAG. The OAG also writes in its supreme court brief that the Bellefonte Police Department is no longer conducting an investigation, leaving the OAG as the only office looking into the forgery allegations.

“District Attorney Parks Miller is cooperating with the attorney general to the greatest extent possible. She believes crimes have been committed, not by her, but by others trying to harm her, and she wants to help uncover the truth,” Castor says. “If the truth comes out that people did try to hurt the DA, we will push for the prosecution of any such people.”

Parks Miller has claimed in numerous court filings that the commissioners were motivated to act against her by personal and political disagreements. The commissioners have denied the existence of any such conspiracy.

Centre County Solicitor Louis Glantz says the supreme court's dismissal of Parks Miller's petition is "a victory" for Centre County. He claims the decision is evidence that the sections of the County Code used by the commissioners are valid and relevant under state law.

"I don't think there are any plans for the commissioners to take any further action right now," Glantz says. "The attorney general appears to be investigating this case, so everyone is waiting to see what the outcome of that investigation is."

John Abom, an attorney for the commissioners, said the supreme court's decision is "a clear victory for the County’s position and for the residents of Centre County."

"Should the Commissioners or any other person aggrieved by the District Attorney seek redress in the courts, that option remains viable for them," Abom says in an email.

Only commissioners Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos are involved in the supreme court filings. Commissioner Michael Pipe chose not to be involved, and is not listed as a party on any of the filings from the commissioners.

The forgery allegations were first made public at a county commissioners meeting in January. Two State College lawyers presented the commissioners with an affidavit signed by Michelle Shutt – Parks Miller’s former paralegal – alleging that she witnessed Parks Miller forge the signature of Centre County Judge Pamela Ruest.

In response, the commissioners hired Abom as special legal counsel and the Bellefonte police began an investigation, which has since been put on hold. Those actions prompted Parks Miller to file her supreme court petition.

The parties involved in the case have also reportedly been meeting with the presiding judge of a grand jury based in Pittsburgh.

Numerous media outlets have reported that Parks Miller, the county commissioners, the county solicitor and various lawyers have met with Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker in the past few weeks. According to Pennsylvania courts spokesperson Jim Koval, Krumenacker is both a Cambria County common pleas judge and the presiding judge of a Pittsburgh-based grand jury.

When asked for details about the reported meetings between the Centre County officials and Krumenacker, Koval replied that he could not legally provide any comment.

“Your queries concern matters under the jurisdiction of the grand jury, and… are confidential,” Koval says in an email.

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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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