An affidavit alleging texting between Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford and District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller during a trial in 2012 has been entered as an exhibit to an appeal before the state Superior Court.
Lunsford’s former court reporter, Maggie Miller, wrote the affidavit earlier this month, according to the filing.
According to the document, during a recess in the trial of Randall Brooks, Lunsford told the court reporter that he and Parks Miller had been texting during that four-day trial, saying that the district attorney was “bitching to him” about the way he was handling objections and the trial.
Brooks, 42, of Howard, was accused of shooting his former girlfriend’s lover with a shotgun in December 2009. He was found guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges in a trial before Lunsford in April 2012.
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Brooks was sentenced to at least 36 years and three months in state prison later that year for the attempted murder charge and others, including witness intimidation and stalking. He is serving that sentence at Fayette state prison.
Brooks’ name also came up last week, when the Centre County Public Defender’s Office issued an appeal to the state Office of Open Records. Brooks represented himself during trial, but that office requested communication records between Lunsford and members of the District Attorney’s Office during Brooks’ trial.
Bruce Castor Jr., Parks Miller’s attorney, said that the allegation is “completely false, an outright lie.”
“The press is being used, yet again, to generate headlines to hurt the reputation of the (d)istrict (a)ttorney, with an accusation that will never be proven,” Castor said in an email.
Parks Miller also denied the claim and pointed out that it is documented that she never “texted a judge during any trial anytime.”
Lunsford declined to comment because judges are prohibited from commenting on pending cases.
Miller’s affidavit was attached as an exhibit in an application for relief filed before the state Superior Court on Friday in the appeal of Jalene McClure. The filing states that McClure’s attorney, Bernard Cantorna, received the affidavit about May 15.
McClure was convicted in September 2014 of the 2010 assault of an infant. In October, she was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. She is incarcerated at Cambridge Springs state prison. Lunsford presided over the trial and the sentencing.
This is not the first time the McClure case has raised questions about contact between Lunsford and members of the District Attorney’s Office.
Cantorna filed Right-to-Know requests with Centre County government in October seeking phone records of communications between Lunsford and prosecutors during McClure’s trial. The records indicate texting between Lunsford, Parks Miller, Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Foster and former assistant district attorney Nathan Boob on the days of McClure’s trial.
Recent court orders in lawsuits filed against the county by Parks Miller, Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker enjoined the county from responding to any further requests and found the county to be in violation of the state Right-to-Know law in releasing phone records to Cantorna and other defense attorneys.
In an opinion regarding the McClure case filed last month, Lunsford wrote about the texts.
He said he texted Parks Miller during a lunch break about returning to the courtroom before the jury was seated to discuss the “attorneys’ conduct,” a text that Parks Miller did not answer.
He also wrote that Boob had sent him a message after the trial to let him know that the jury had reached a verdict so Lunsford would know to return to Bellefonte. Lunsford wrote that he was on the Penn State campus teaching a class when the text was sent.
There was texting with Foster on the days of the trial but, Lunsford wrote, Foster was not involved in McClure’s trial and the texts did not concern the trial.
The Brooks trial, Cantorna argues, is “directly relevant” to the independence of the trial court and the fundamental fairness of proceedings.
“The attached exhibit and the testimony of Maggie Miller would have been probative and relevant to prove that the (d)istrict (a)ttorney and the court engage in ex parte communications during trials via text message, as the Verizon phone records would seem to indicate in the McClure case,” Cantorna wrote.
Cantorna is seeking a new trial for McClure. He declined to comment on the filing.
“The (c)ounty has been looking at my phone records for the past calendar year and releasing them to whomever asked for them, illegally no less. Shame on them for trying to get a new trial for a woman who almost killed a child with these lies. It is a new low in Centre County,” Parks Miller said.
The court reporter also made her observations known to the Judicial Conduct Board and the Disciplinary Board, according to the affidavit.
In December, President Judge Thomas King Kistler removed Lunsford from hearing criminal cases except for DUI court cases.