It has been more than two months since watchdog groups from Harrisburg asked for an investigation of the relationship between Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Bruce Castor, Kane’s successor and Parks Miller’s attorney.
Now they are taking their request to the people.
In a press release Thursday, Gene Stilp, of Taxpayers and Ratepayers United, and Eric Epstein, of Rock the Capital, announced the creation of the Centre County Accountability Project. They also held a press conference at 11 a.m. outside of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
“When you want to know more, you go to where there are more facts,” the release read. “But the problem is that some officials in Centre County government seem to have been the target of the DA.”
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They pointed to the recusal of the Centre County commissioners from the election board in January. Parks Miller has submitted petitions and paperwork for a re-election run this year.
Parks Miller is involved in ongoing appeals of cases at both the federal and state levels that involve the commissioners, the county, Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Ruest, a former county administrator, a former county solicitor, her former paralegal and a number of local defense attorneys.
It started with a 2015 accusation at a commissioners meeting that Parks Miller forged Ruest’s signature on a fake bail order as part of an investigation into death threats against an assistant district attorney. Those accusations were referred to Kane for investigation. Parks Miller hired Castor to represent her.
Kane put the issue in front of an investigating grand jury that heard testimony from two handwriting analysts who work in the same firm, determining that the signature was Ruest’s. No charges were recommended.
Parks Miller then filed suit against all of the parties for defamation. Castor was hired not only by Parks Miller personally, but sworn in as a deputy DA to handle cases that might overlap with the lawyers or issues involved as they arose in Centre County court.
And then Kane hired him, too, naming him solicitor general after she lost her law license when she was charged with a felony. He moved up to first assistant AG and then took over the office after Kane’s conviction and resignation.
Stilp and Epstein say there is another relationship in play now — that between Republican Castor and the new Democratic AG, Josh Shapiro. The two men simultaneously served as Montgomery County commissioners.
Parks Miller’s former paralegal Michelle Shutt filed her own suit against her one-time boss alleging defamation and retaliation.
“People cannot speak freely, it seems, without the threat of retaliation. So here we are today to provide a different way for people in Centre County and the surrounding counties to present us with their facts,” Stilp and Epstein said in their release.
They are bypassing electronic means of communications and going old school, setting up a post office box in Bellefonte instead of an email address: PO Box 235, Bellefonte, PA 16823.
“Email is clearly not private anymore. Cell phones and regular phones are not really private anymore,” they said.
Castor took exception to these statements, especially in light of Parks Miller’s own cell phone information that were released by the county in response to a Right to Know request that the DA challenged in three different courts.
Stilp said he has used a PO box in other cases, including gathering information that was passed on to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
They are asking for information to be sent typed or on flash drives, without signatures and with photos. The information would be provided to “the appropriate investigating agency whether that (be) the Pennsylvania State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation” or the Office of Attorney General. They stipulated Parks Miller and Shapiro would not be informed directly.
Parks Miller and Castor renewed objections to the attention on Stilp and Epstein’s requests due to politics.
“Apparently, the attorney general knows the difference between fact and fantasy, and these folks want fantasy. As her opponent’s allies wish upon a star as his strategy to dislodge the DA, she will continue to hold people accountable for victimizing others in Centre County. Election year nonsense. That’s all this is. It does get tiresome. Tell us why you’re better, not fake stories about the lady doing the job so well for eight years,” Castor said.
Fellow Democratic candidate for DA Bernard Cantorna is one of the defense attorneys who was involved in the initial commissioners meeting and is a named party in her lawsuit.
“I was falsely accused by the guy who has been planning for two years how to improve his chances at becoming DA. Tiresome that this primary election season has gone on for the last 26 months. These men and their cronies will stop at nothing, including now using the outside groups hoping the media will be duped into making false accusations to effect the election through ‘press releases’ which have zero credibility,” Parks Miller said in an email. “How many times do I have to prove their lies? Bottom line — Centre County has an independent woman DA and an office that gets the right results. They don’t like it. Get over it. Really. This is 2017. Nauseating politics is not a campaign strategy simply because you have nothing else to offer.”
Cantorna said he has never met the two men who held the conference and only knows of their organizations’ work from their opposition to a 2005 Pennsylvania legislative pay raise.
“This is not anything that is a campaign strategy for me. This is a reflection of how she has run her office over the last seven years,” Cantorna said. “It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with her.”