Centre County commissioners heard allegations Tuesday that District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller forged the signature of Judge Pamela A. Ruest in 2013.
Attorney Bernard Cantorna, speaking on his own and on behalf of other members of the Centre County Bar Association, brought the allegations — and a request — to the board during the public comment portion of its regular meeting Tuesday morning.
“The reason I am here is to ask you, the highest elected county officials, to take some action to investigate these allegations and to ensure there is an independent investigation done and the necessary legal action is taken,” Cantorna said.
At the end of the meeting, and after discussion and questions, the motion was granted when commissioners voted unanimously to authorize county solicitor Louis Glantz to take measures to file petitions in Centre County Court to appoint an “independent prosecutor” to investigate.
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The allegations come from a former paralegal in the District Attorney’s Office, and the document in question is a bail order, dated July 18, 2013, and filed with the prothonotary Sept. 9 of that year.
In an affidavit provided to the commissioners and dated Dec. 30, Michelle Shutt said Parks Miller had asked her to study orders signed by Ruest. She then was directed by Parks Miller to “type a fake order ... that would look as similar as possible,” she says in the affidavit.
After the order was written and printed, Shutt wrote, she took it to the DA and witnessed her signing Ruest’s name on the document. Parks Miller then told her to take the order to the Prothonotary’s Office to file it.
The order sought to lower the bail of Robert Albro, a State College man then in Centre County prison awaiting trial on drug charges, according to the sworn affidavit. The order was allegedly to be used to “set up” another defendant using Albro, according to the affidavit.
Parks Miller said the allegations are “completely and patently false” and “absurd” in a statement provided by her attorney, Robert Tintner, of Philadelphia. She is confident the matter will be properly investigated and any accusations will be “quickly and completely dismissed,” according to the statement.
Ruest declined to comment.
Cantorna told commissioners that Shutt has been threatened with prosecution. Parks Miller’s statement said Shutt is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office “for making false reports.”
The law office of Andrew Shubin represents Shutt. Shubin, who has worked on civil rights and free-speech cases in the past, was present and also spoke to the commissioners.
He described Shutt as a “whistleblower” and said there are First Amendment concerns because of the “potential for retaliation” against Shutt, anyone else who steps forward and the attorneys who represent them.
Bringing in a special, independent prosecutor to investigate from outside Centre County is one way to mitigate that potential, Shubin said. He asked commissioners to be vigilant.
“It would be well served for you to monitor whether there is retaliation and people are very worried about it ... it’s important and your statements go a very long way toward giving people confidence that they can come forward and be protected,” Shubin said.
Commissioner Michael Pipe said that any former or current county employees who step forward about wrongdoing would be central to learning the truth in any investigation and should “feel safe” that they are protected.
Retaliation would not be tolerated, commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem said, and anyone who would encounter it should contact their office or the courts.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Dershem said. “We’re going to get this resolved.”
Another local lawyer, Steve Trialonas, was present but did not address the board.
The name of another member of the Centre County judicial system also came up at the meeting. In December, Judge Bradley P. Lunsford was removed by court order from all criminal cases except DUI court.
Cantorna represented Jalene McClure in a case before Lunsford and alleged in an October motion that Lunsford had texted members of the prosecution during that trial. An open records request by Cantorna yielded text messages from Lunsford to prosecutors, some that appear to have been sent during the trial, according to court documents.
Commissioner Chris Exarchos said during the meeting that Lunsford is under investigation by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania.
Lunsford said in an email that he has nothing to hide and disclosed all of his text and email records for review. A full review from any independent set of eyes would be welcome in order to have the matter put to rest, he said.
“I am very disturbed by these allegations made against me, but I encourage an independent and unbiased review in order to fully settle this matter,” he said.
Such allegations and investigations against members of the county judiciary erode trust in the courts, Exarchos said.
“The public must have complete faith, trust and confidence in the judicial system at all levels,” he said.