Parks Miller protests paralegal’s demand to preserve texts

CDT photo

Michelle Shutt wants a federal court to tell her former boss to hold onto things that might be evidence in their proceedings.

Her former boss, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, responded, calling the request “galling” and Shutt a liar.

Shutt, Parks Miller’s former paralegal, is suing the DA — and the county — for defamation, abuse of process and retaliation after Shutt’s allegations of forgery by the DA were presented to an investigating grand jury by the Office of the Attorney General. The grand jury recommended no charges after hearing testimony from two handwriting experts found the signatures belonged to Judge Pamela Ruest.

Shutt’s suit follows Parks Miller’s own naming her, Ruest, the county and its 2015 board of commissioners, the former administrator and solicitor and a number of defense attorneys, including another former employee and Shutt’s new boss. That case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann and is being appealed.

Now Shutt wants the same judge to direct Parks Miller to “secure and preserve” electronic data that could be evidence.

That links back to another issue — allegations of texting communications between the DA’s office and some members of Centre County Court of Common Pleas. Those allegations have already been part of other cases, like Jalene McClure’s appeal of her 2014 aggravated assault conviction. McClure’s case was sent back for retrial.

According to Shutt’s attorney, Kathleen Yurchak, “evidence relating to the existence and content of electronic data regarding communications between Parks Miller, her staff and members of the judiciary is a crucial evidence regarding the retaliatory nature of her civil filing for Shutt” and press conference statements made against the paralegal.

Parks Miller disagrees. In response, her attorney (and former AG and former solicitor general and still special deputy DA) Bruce Castor said, “It is she whose lies set off the chain of events ... to pursue vendettas against an aggressive district attorney.”

He also called the attention on the texts “stunningly misleading.”

And then there is the fact that it might all be moot.

Castor said Parks Miller does not possess the texts in question.

“Testimony has already revealed that the technology company hired by Centre County routinely factory resets every phone turned in by any county employee to protect the employee’s privacy and personal information, which happened in this case of the phone at issue in this motion,” he wrote.

Parks Miller’s claims also reiterated a regular response, namely that the whole controversy is politically motivated. McClure’s attorney, Bernard Cantorna, is challenging Parks Miller for DA in the Democratic primary. He announced his candidacy in November 2016, 22 months after the forgery allegations were brought out at a county commissioners meeting. Cantorna has repeatedly denied any political motivation.

“I am not sure what could be ‘galling’ about agreeing to keep evidence intact. It is a standard request in any case. In my opinion, the District Attorney Parks Miller has been and continues to spend an inordinate amount of time and money over the past two years on keeping this information secret. A reasonable person may conclude there is something very damaging she is trying to hide,” said Yurchak.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

Related stories from Centre Daily Times