Federal judge grants protective order for evidence in DA case

CDT photo

A judge has weighed in on the legal back-and-forth filings between the Centre County district attorney and her former paralegal.

In an order Wednesday, U.S. Judge Matthew Brann granted an emergency motion for a protective order “prohibiting spoliation and preserving evidence.”

The order was requested by plaintiff Michelle Shutt, who is suing her former employer for defamation, abuse of process and retaliation, a mirror of the case Stacy Parks Miller brought against Shutt, several defense attorneys, Centre County and county officials in 2015. That case was dismissed by the same judge and is being appealed.

Both cases stem from a January 2015 allegation made at a county commissioners meeting. Shutt raised the claim that Parks Miller forged a document as part of an investigation. That allegation was presented to an investigative grand jury by the Office of the Attorney General, resulting in no charges and a decision that the signature in question did belong to a Centre County judge.

But the Shutt case also raised another issue, allegations of texting communications between the DA’s office and judges. Those issues have been brought up in criminal cases, and came up again in Shutt’s suit when attorney Kathleen Yurchak filed the petition, asking Brann to put the order in place to protect data that might come into evidence.

Centre County, also a defendant in Shutt’s suit, agreed to the request, but Parks Miller opposed.

Brann granted the order, he said, in part because it did not require anything to be turned over by the third-party, PATC Tech, in possession of the electronic devices in question.

“... Instead, Plaintiff is merely requesting that PATC Tech maintain and not destroy any potentially relevant evidence,” Brann wrote. “A balancing of the interests here favors maintenance of this evidence over its destruction.”

The judge said he was writing his decision narrowly and not ordering disclosure.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce