The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General has made its position clear on who should investigate forgery and other allegations made against Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
The office filed a brief, signed by Chief Deputy Attorney General James Barker, before the state Supreme Court on Thursday asking the court to order that it has sole jurisdiction in the matter.
The Commonwealth Attorneys Act, which established the office in 1981, “vests exclusive jurisdiction” to the office to investigate and prosecute cases referred to it by a district attorney with a conflict of interest, and in the case of Parks Miller, the office is the only law enforcement agency that can investigate without a disqualifying conflict of interest, the document states.
Jurisdiction has been the source of conflict between Parks Miller and the Centre County board of commissioners since the accusation that Parks Miller forged a judge’s signature was made public at a commissioners meeting last month.
Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos and Michael Pipe unanimously voted to investigate the allegations and hire “special counsel” to potentially prosecute Parks Miller in accordance with two statutes in the Pennsylvania County Code regarding district attorneys who have been charged with a crime or accused of negligence while carrying out his or her duties.
Parks Miller, who denies the allegations, said she referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office before the meeting and maintains that office has sole jurisdiction when investigating and potentially prosecuting district attorneys with a conflict of interest.
Commissioners and county solicitor Louis Glantz argued that there can be shared jurisdiction between the Attorney General’s Office and Bellefonte police, who have jurisdiction in the borough.
On Jan. 24, Bellefonte police executed a warrant to search Parks Miller’s office and seized a laptop, flash drive, tablet and cellphone citing an investigation into allegations of forgery, tampering with public records or information and theft of services.
The items were turned over to the Attorney General’s Office and returned to the District Attorney’s Office earlier this month, according to a letter from Bruce Castor Jr., Parks Miller’s attorney, to the Centre County court administrator’s office. The Attorney General’s Office did not confirm the return of the items, but Bellefonte police have subsequently ceased their investigation, according to Thursday’s filing. Bellefonte Police Chief Shawn Weaver could not be reached for comment.
In the filing, the Attorney General’s Office maintains that the Commonwealth Attorneys Act supersedes the statutes in the county code and the commissioners and solicitor don’t have the authority to participate in a criminal investigation.
Even if the county code provisions were not superseded, the filing argues, the Attorney General’s Office still would have sole jurisdiction because Parks Miller is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. Therefore, local law enforcement conducting an investigation of its own district attorney would create a conflict of interest, the filing states.
John Abom, the special counsel hired by the county and attorney for Dershem and Exarchos, declined to comment.
Michelle Shutt, a former paralegal in District Attorney’s Office signed an affidavit Dec. 30 alleging that Parks Miller had instructed her to study orders written by Judge Pamela A. Ruest and prepare an order that looked similar to one Ruest would have written.
According to the affidavit, Shutt witnessed Parks Miller sign the judge’s name on the order and was instructed by the district attorney to file it with the Prothonotary’s Office.