Judge sides with Parks Miller in Right-to-Know ruling

An out-of-county judge ruled similarly to orders handed down last week in suits filed against the county by judges after a hearing on an injunction in a similar lawsuit filed against the county by Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz, who is also handling suits filed against the county by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker, granted a portion of the injunction sought by Parks Miller and ordered the county to not respond to Right-to-Know requests involving judicial records relating to Parks Miller and her office.

Instead, such requests should be forwarded to Parks Miller and the Right-to-Know officer for her office, who should respond accordingly, Kurtz said.

“I’ve made decisions in the other cases and I won’t change my opinion in this case,” Kurtz said.

In closing, Kurtz said both sides may be best served by having an outside mediator handle the matters instead of the court, adding that it would be cheaper and take less time.

Testimony and arguments lasted about an hour and a half, and attorneys and Kurtz spent more than an hour in chambers before the order was issued.

Court filings by Parks Miller’s attorneys Tuesday voluntarily dismissed Bernard Cantorna, Sean McGraw and their law firms without prejudice — meaning they could be added again at another time.

Tim Hinton, Cantorna’s attorney, and Ron Barber, representing McGraw, asked the judge to dismiss their clients with prejudice, meaning they could not be brought back in the suit.

Kurtz allowed the attorneys to remain, but did not dismiss them with prejudice.

After the arguments regarding the dismissal, President Judge Thomas King Kistler gave testimony similar to that he provided at an April hearing in the Grine and Gillette-Walker suits.

County attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer asked Kistler if he had ever had a conversation with Judge Bradley P. Lunsford about texting on the bench. Before Kistler could answer, Parks Miller’s attorney, Bruce Castor, objected on the grounds of relevance. Maierhofer said it was relevant because of conspiracy allegations made by Parks Miller. Kurtz sustained the objection.

Sparks flew during Castor’s cross-examination of Kistler. Castor said the county had released Parks Miller’s cellphone number to Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, a nonprofit group that requested it. The group then put it on the Internet and Parks Miller received threatening phone calls, Castor said. Parks Miller said the county did not notify her of the request.

Maierhofer said the county was obligated to respond because there was no response or objection from Parks Miller.

“We did our duty. We did the right thing,” Maierhofer said, referring to the county.

Parks Miller claims county officials went through her emails last year, some that may contain protected, confidential law enforcement information. Castor expressed concern that the county could still be going through her emails and said they attempted to do so earlier this year.

Maierhofer denied the accusation and said county officials had not responded to Right-to-Know requests involving Parks Miller’s emails since last year, when they were advised not to do so.

Castor described the ruling as an “all around win” for Parks Miller and said he hoped the ruling could be the beginning of the end of the “poisonous atmosphere” between Centre County judiciary and government.

Parks Miller said the county should be “ashamed” that the records were used by attorneys to attack crime victims and have cost the taxpayers money through hiring additional legal counsel.

“They owe an apology to the judiciary, law enforcement and crime victims,” she said.

Other aspects of Parks Miller’s complaint, like whether the county violated the Criminal History Records Information Act , would be addressed after the appeals process, Kurtz said.