Stacy Parks Miller Accuses Centre County Commissioners of Conspiracy, Retaliation
The Centre County Board of Commissioners has appointed a Harrisburg law firm to serve as special counsel on issues related to the investigation of Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller – and the board might need to make good use of its services.
According to Parks Miller’s attorney Bruce Castor, a potential storm of legal action against the commissioners is brewing.
Castor filed a petition on Parks Miller’s behalf in Centre County Court on Monday, requesting that materials seized from Parks Miller's office by Bellfonte police be returned. The petition also accuses the commissioners of retaliation and conspiracy. Castor says these claims could form the basis for legal action against the Centre County officials.
The conflict stems from allegations that Parks Miller forged a judge’s signature on a fake court order. Two State College attorneys brought these allegations – in the form of a signed affidavit from Park Miller’s former paralegal – to the board of commissioners last week. Parks Miller has avidly denied the allegations.
The commissioners responded by hiring the law firm of Abom & Kutulakis as special counsel to advise them on how to proceed. The Bellefonte police department has also begun an investigation, executing a search warrant on Parks Miller’s office and seizing computers and other items over the weekend.
According to Parks Miller’s petition, State College attorneys Bernard Cantorna and Philip Masorti acted out of “actual malice, and a reckless disregard for the truth” by bringing the allegations to the board of commissioners. Parks Miller claims that the two lawyers were motivated by past disagreements with the district attorney’s office.
Parks Miller goes on to argue that the commissioners themselves were also acting in response to past disagreement and disputes with the district attorney’s office, including investigations into reported violations of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act and an investigation involving commissioner Chris Exarchos’ son.
The commissioners deny the existence of any conspiracy, and say they acted because they were made aware of allegations that they had an obligation to investigate.
“When we’re brought serious allegations of wrongdoing, we can’t just sit idly by and do nothing,” Exarchos says. “… Besides, what do these claims have to do with the allegations against the District Attorney? This seems like an attempt to change the conversation.”
Cantorna and Centre County Commissioner Louis Glantz also deny the existence of any conspiracy.
Masorti acknowledges that he has been an outspoken critic of Parks Miller for her use of what he describes as "unseemly and sordid tactics." However, he says that his personal feelings have no bearing on the allegations that she forged a judge's signature.
"I had a duty to report wrongdoing that I had learned of, and I did that. The fact that I did it with relish is of no consequence," Masorti says. "But to suggest that I joined some kind of conspiracy with other people, some of whom I've never talked to, is absurd."
Castor, who is a current Montgomery County Commissioner and former district attorney, says the investigation into Parks Miller also raises questions of jurisdiction.
Parks Miller says she took the allegations of forgery to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to investigate before the allegations became public. Even though she says the OAG has proper jurisdiction in this case, Bellefonte police began an investigation and conducted a search of her office.
“[Stacy Parks Miller] believes and therefore avers that the search warrant executed on her office lacked probable cause to permit such a search and seizure in violation of the U.S. and the Pennsylvania Constitutions,” her petition reads.
Castor explains that when the county commissioners directed their solicitor to petition the Centre County Court to start a special investigation, they circumvented the authority of the attorney general. He says Parks Miller could chose to request an investigation into her allegations of “conspiracy to commit official oppression.”
Representatives from the office of the attorney general have denied repeated requests to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into the Parks Miller forgery allegations.
“There’s a broader concept at play here,” Castor says. “If the procedures the commissioners are attempting to employ are permissible, that would grant commissioners leverage over district attorneys throughout Pennsylvania by shielding them from being investigated by their district attorney, because DA’s would be afraid to investigate administerial wrongdoing out of fear of retaliation.”
Exarchos says the commissioners are acting based on a statute in the criminal code that allows any citizen of Pennsylvania to petition the courts for an investigation if wrongdoing is suspected in the criminal justice system. He says the commissioners are only involved in this case because it involves a former county employee, a current county employee and the county’s public records.
Commisioner Steve Dershem also says the Bellefonte police department has proper jurisdiction in this case because the county courthouse is within the borough of Bellefonte.
“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of what’s going here,” Dershem says.
In response to Parks Miller’s petition, Castor says the court must schedule a hearing before making any decision on whether to return the materials seized from her office.
Dersehm points out that no criminal charges have been filed against Parks Miller. If Bellefonte police recommend filing charges, then the commissioners can petition the court to appoint a special prosecutor in the case.
According to the board of commissioners Jan. 27 meeting agenda, the law firm of Abom & Kutulakis will provide legal counsel to the commissioners for $125 an hour for an Attorney out of court, $170 an hour for an attorney in court and $95 an hour for a paralegal or law clerk. Dersehm says this contract will likely last until the allegations facing Parks Miller are resolved.
Representatives from the Bellefonte police department did not respond to requests for comment.
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