The relationship between Centre County and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General is being questioned.
And on Tuesday, two Harrisburg watchdog groups presented Josh Shapiro’s office with a request for a full investigation just after he was sworn in at noon as the state’s new AG.
Gene Stilp, of Taxpayers and Ratepayers United, and Eric Epstein, of Rock the Capital, want him to take a look at the tangled relationship between Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, convicted and resigned AG Kathleen Kane and her successor, Bruce Castor.
“While many questionable aspects of Kane’s tenure can be mentioned, one bizarre, complicated and questionable period has to be investigated as a full-faith effort to review and correct the Kane era. The connections and interactions of Kathleen Kane, Stacy Parks Miller and Bruce Castor need to be examined,” Stilp and Epstein wrote.
They asked for a full investigation.
An investigation is kind of where the questions started. After allegations were raised in January 2015 that Parks Miller had forged the signature of Judge Pamela Ruest on a fake bail order as part of an investigation into death threats against an assistant DA, the OAG was involved in looking at those allegations.
Parks Miller brought in Castor, the former Montgomery County prosecutor who had already gained attention as the DA who opted not to charge Bill Cosby, to represent her in the case. She also hired him as a special assistant DA to take the reins in “cases involving efforts to disqualify the district attorney of Centre County and her assistants from prosecuting cases, and such other matters as the district attorney might assign to me from time to time.”
That was in April 2015. In July 2015, Kane announced that a grand jury found the “evidence does not support criminal charges.” The grand jury report pointed to handwriting expert testimony that the signature was Ruest’s. It did find that Parks Miller had used some county employee time and services, to the tune of about $225, for her re-election campaign, but called it “too trivial” to merit charges.
One month later, Kane was indicted for obstruction and perjury in Montgomery County. The charges related to grand jury information leaks.
Before August 2015 ran out, Castor filed a lawsuit for Parks Miller, suing the county (as a whole as well as the individual commissioners, administrator and solicitor), the former paralegal who testified to forgery, the defense lawyers who brought the issue forward and Ruest.
Fast forward another seven months. Parks Miller’s case had gone back and forth in federal court between the many parties involved, but now Castor had a new job as Kane appointed him her solicitor general in March 2016. That move came as she bucked calls to resign amidst her growing legal problems and after her law license had been suspended, making it impossible to do many of the duties of the AG’s job.
“It really is quite simple. I am second in command in every aspect of the leadership of the OAG subordinate only to Attorney General Kane. The lone exception is I am the final word on all legal decisions,” Castor said in June 2016, explaining his role to the Centre Daily Times. “Operating as a bridge to and from the senior staff, I make the wishes of the attorney general known to them and their advice and opinions known to her.”
He continued to ascend the OAG ladder. In July 2016, Kane named him first deputy attorney general. After her resignation in Aug. 2016, Castor became Pennsylvania’s AG, even if it was only for two weeks, until Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominated replacement was OK’d by the legislature.
Throughout all of that, Castor continued to represent Parks Miller. The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2016, but is being appealed.
“A full review has to be launched at the earliest appropriate time to ascertain all the facts. This review has to include the study of all the documents and questioning of all the current and former employees of the Office of Attorney General who had any role in the Stacy Parks Miller matter, including Kathleen Kane and Bruce Castor,” Stilp and Epstein wrote. “This will probably lead to a new grand jury to deal with the Stacy Parks Miller matter.”
Castor dismissed the idea.
“All sorts of insane statements are in election years. After all, isn’t DA Parks Miller’s election opponent the very person who falsely accused her? He’ll have to do better than that. Anyway, zero connection exists, so who cares?” he said in an email Tuesday.
Parks Miller’s seat is up for re-election in 2017. Defense attorney Bernard Cantorna, one of the defense attorneys involved in bringing the allegations and one of the defendants in Parks Miller’s lawsuit, has announced a run against her. After his announcement, the DA responded, alleging political motivations for the accusations.
Cantorna called her reaction “disappointing” and “unfortunate.”
Parks Miller called the Stilp and Epstein request political, too.
“Everyone is tired of this old fake scandal manufactured by my opponent. Two handwriting experts completely exonerated me with 100 percent certainty over 1.5 years ago. This is a transparent ploy to generate a racy article during the election. I remain confident that Centre County rejects dishonest tabloid politics and will decide this election on real experience and results.”
Stilp denied political motivation.
“I think this goes beyond politics and to the actual functionality of the office,” he said. “But it’s in. It’s stamped. Now we’ll see what happens.”