Centre County’s courthouse drama continued Friday with a new case in federal court.
Michelle Shutt, former paralegal to Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Middle District of Pennsylvania, accusing her former boss of retaliation, false public statements, abuse of process, defamation, injurious falsehood and false light/invasion of privacy.
It all started with the January 2015 allegations that Parks Miller forged the signature of Judge Pamela Ruest on a fake bail order as part of an investigation into death threats against an assistant district attorney. Shutt signed an affidavit attesting to that incident and later testified in front of an investigating grand jury.
“Shutt expected that her statements, memorialized in the affidavit, would be submitted to further a judicial or quasi judicial investigation,” wrote the paralegal’s attorney, Kathleen Yurchak.
The battle lines became drawn between the DA’s office and several defense attorneys, including Shutt’s new employer, Philip Masorti, as well as the Centre County commissioners and administration.
The allegations against Parks Miller were turned over to the state Office of Attorney General. The grand jury did not recommend charges against the DA after hearing testimony from a handwriting expert.
Parks Miller subsequently filed a lawsuit against all of the parties involved, including Shutt, the attorneys, the commissioners, Ruest and the county solicitor and administrator, claiming a host of wrongs, including many of the same offenses Shutt’s case details.
Judge Matthew Brann dismissed most of the charges in that case in May, calling the allegations “inartful” and “vitriolic.” All charges against Shutt were dismissed. The only surviving claims are Fourth Amendment issues against the county, commissioner Steve Dershem and then-commissioner Chris Exarchos.
Yurchak said in her filing that Parks Miller has attempted to intimidate Shutt.
“Shutt exercises her rights as an American citizen by participating in the criminal investigation against Parks Miller through her affidavit and testimony ... Parks Miller then retaliated against Shutt for her protected activity with false statements attacking Shutt’s character and integrity, followed by threats to intimidate, prevent and deter Shutt from further participation,” she wrote.
She includes comments made by Parks Miller against Shutt in local media, including the Centre Daily Times, as examples.
The suit asks for compensation for loss of business opportunities, emotional distress and humiliation, anxiety and inconvenience, as well as punitive damages and legal fees for both the new suit and Parks Miller’s litigation. The suit also names Centre County as a defendant on the retaliation and false statement claims.
“Shutt and her lawyer should be ashamed of themselves for filing such a frivolous action when they know I am innocent. Unfortunately, some people are morally bankrupt and keep plodding on when they are in too deep,” Parks Miller said. “I have zero fear of liars and cheats and will focus on my job, not her continuing drama.”
Her attorney, Bruce Castor, was even more pointed.
“It’s almost impossible to believe,” said Castor, who was the state solicitor general and is now first deputy attorney general as well as representing Parks Miller and serving as her special deputy. “(Shutt) and her attorney are probably hoping to make a fast buck out of Centre County.”
He followed that up by alleging retaliation from Yurchak.
“It’s important to remember that DA Parks Miller locked up Yurchak’s son,” he said.
Shutt’s attorney brushed that statement aside.
“As Michelle Obama recently said, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ I will not even dignify that desperate comment with a response,” Yurchack said.