Centre County Judge Thomas King Kistler has found himself on the other side of the law.
Charges were filed Thursday against Kistler, 60, of Centre Hall, over a Sept. 30 crash, in which he was allegedly found to have been driving with a blood alcohol content level of .231., according to a criminal case filed with Cambria County Senior District Judge Charity Nileski.
Nileski currently serves in Centre County’s District Court 49-2-01 in the position formerly occupied by District Judge Leslie Dutchcot before her retirement.
According to the affidavit filed by State College police, officers were called to a crash on Park Avenue near Orchard Road. It was reported that a person directing traffic had been struck by a vehicle driven by Kistler. Sept. 30 marked the Penn State-Indiana football game.
The security traffic officer had been directing traffic on East Park Avenue, police said, when he reported being struck in the ankle and leg by a silver truck that had failed to stop. Contact was described as “minor,” as the officer suffered no injury and the truck was not damaged.
The officer was able to get the license plate number, police said, identifying the vehicle as being registered to Kistler.
At the next intersection, police said, two officers observed the truck go around traffic barricades, attempting to go south on Orchard. At that point, the driver was stopped.
A State College police officer reportedly observed signs of intoxication on Kistler, police said. He allegedly denied any knowledge of striking the security officer. Kistler performed unsatisfactorily on a field sobriety test, police said.
Charges against Kistler include two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and two summary traffic offenses, the criminal complaint said. A preliminary hearing is slated for Nov. 22.
Kistler stepped down as Centre Centre president judge earlier this year. County President Judge Pamela Ruest was sworn in on Sept. 7.
Ruest issued a statement Thursday, saying “Since Judge Kistler is a member of our court, I am requesting an out-of-county judge be appointed to hear his case. I have removed Judge Kistler from hearing any DUI or State College Police Department matters until his case is finally resolved.”
This is not the first time that Kistler has made headlines for something that happened outside his courtroom.
In February 2015, the judge was nominated to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, information surfaced about an email Kistler forwarded in 2013, with a faux Christmas card of a black woman visiting a black inmate in jail with the caption “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.”
Kistler subsequently withdrew his name from consideration for the Supreme Court position, but did not attribute the decision to the email controversy.
“...several circumstances have developed here, at home, in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system, and require my full attention. I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty,” Kistler wrote in the statement.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, advanced Kistler’s name for Supreme Court. He said Kistler is a personal friend, but like everyone in life is fallible.
“He made a serious mistake,” Corman said, “one I’m sure he’s going to take responsibility for.”
The “circumstances” instead surrounded another controversy that involved a number of defense attorneys, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller and allegations that the DA had forged Ruest’s signature on a fake bail document as part of a sting. When the situation was resolved without charges following a grand jury investigation, Parks Miller filed a lawsuit against the attorneys, Ruest, the county and some officials, and her former paralegal.
Parks Miller now faces a November disciplinary hearing after losing her re-election bid in the primary to Bernard Cantorna, one of the defense attorneys involved.
Another judge, Jonathan Grine, accepted a letter of counsel from the Judicial Conduct Board regarding ex parte communications with Parks Miller.
Shawn Annarelli contributed to this report.