Former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller opened her own law firm recently, but now she might have to reconsider those plans.
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on Thursday recommended her law license be suspended one year and one day.
If the suspension were finalized, she would need to secure approval from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for reinstatement.
“(Parks Miller) betrayed the faith and trust of the public by engaging in misconduct in her official capacity, including dishonest acts, and this factor weighs heavily in the assessment of discipline,” Dion Rassias wrote on behalf of the board in a 45-page request for Supreme Court action signed Thursday.
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She was accused of engaging in ex parte communications with Centre County judges and the creation, dissemination and use of a fake Facebook page to “snoop” on suspected bath salt dealers.
A hearing committee in August recommended she be suspended for three months. The committee found the ex parte text messages to be violations, but said the “concerning” Facebook page was not.
The latest report disagreed with the hearing committee’s assessment and found both allegations to be violations.
“The Facebook page created by (Parks Miller) and disseminated to her staff was fake and constituted fraudulent and deceptive conduct,” Rassias said. “Regardless of (Parks Miller’s) intent to curb criminal activity in her county, she was not permitted to engage in dishonest conduct. (Parks Miller’s) tactics crossed the boundaries of professional ethics.”
When the hearing committee announced its recommendation, Parks Miller’s attorney James Kutz argued that any suspension should be made retroactive because Parks Miller put herself on a self-imposed suspension beginning Jan. 1.
The board disagreed with Kutz’s request because a retroactive suspension would be unprecedented.
“The retroactivity component of a disciplinary order recognizes that the respondent has been without a license to practice for a previous time frame,” Rassias said. “In a situation where an attorney maintains an active license to practice, such as the instant matter, there is no precedent to make a suspension retroactive.”
The board then said Parks Miller failed to balance the interest of alleged victims, the accused and the general public. It also criticized her for failing to “grasp the larger consequences of her actions.”
“When the trust between a public servant and the public is broken, there is no doubt that the public’s perception of the legal profession is damaged,” Rassias said. “Intertwined with the issue of remorse is (Parks Miller’s) complete failure to appreciate and acknowledge the damage she has done to the reputation of the bar.”
In an email Friday, Parks Miller lamented that the allegations against her were deemed admitted after she missed the deadline to file her response. She said the latest recommendation relies on partial text messages that were only 32 characters long from years earlier.
“While being unable to defend against it, I also could not, under oath, agree to their interpretation of the matter or pretend to remember it when I simply did not,” Parks Miller said. “I was under oath and told the complete truth. Refusing to lie during this portion of the case should not be a reason to aggravate my situation. I am regretful about any mistakes I made.”
She also said she remains “extremely mindful of the affect the incidents had on the court system and the bar” and wants to be held responsible for what she “actually did.”
Two mitigating factors were considered by the board. Parks Miller had no previous disciplinary history dating back to 1994 and five character witnesses who testified on her behalf in April.
“All of these actions subjected the district attorney’s office and Centre County court to scrutiny and suspicion by the public,” Rassias said. “(Parks Miller) failed to acknowledge the seriousness of her conduct and failed to accept responsibility.”
The board also requested the expenses incurred throughout the investigation and prosecution of the case be paid by Parks Miller.
“I am most disappointed that the Disciplinary Board rejected the recommended sanction of the hearing committee, which sat and heard the evidence and observed firsthand the demeanor of the witnesses,” Kutz said. “Although the ultimate decision maker will be the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”
Parks Miller said she and Kutz are going to ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to accept the hearing committee’s three-month suspension.
As for her law firm, Parks Miller said her clients will be taken care of no matter how long she is suspended.
“I already have a back up plan and excellent lawyers in place for that,” Parks Miller said.