District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller is not done with her legal war against Centre County yet.
The DA filed suit against the county, the commissioners, administrator Tim Boyde, solicitor Louis Glantz, Judge Pamela Ruest, a former paralegal and a handful of defense attorneys last year after allegations were raised that she forged Ruest’s signature on a document as part of an investigation into death threats against Parks Miller’s assistant district attorney.
The majority of those charges were dismissed last month when a federal judge found fault with many of the claims, calling the assertions “inartful” and “vitriolic.”
But in one area, U.S. Judge Matthew Brann left the door open, saying Parks Miller could file an amended complaint on her Fourth Amendment claims against the county, Commissioner Steve Dershem, former commissioner Chris Exarchos, Glantz and Boyde.
She did that Wednesday.
In the new filing, Parks Miller’s attorney and Pennsylvania Solicitor General Bruce Castor renews the claims against the parties, saying they “each used political and financial pressure” in having a search warrant executed on the DA’s office in January 2015, suggesting coercion of the Bellefonte police.
“Instead of doing their jobs, the defendants were engaged in playing ‘police commissioners’ seeking personal and political retribution against the plaintiff if elected by the public and doing that job,” Castor wrote.
The defendants were engaged in playing ‘police commissioners.’
Stacy Parks Miller’s second amended complaint
He claimed members of the press were “tipped off” about the nighttime warrant service at the courthouse “in an effort to publicly humiliate her and ruin her reputation by violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“Plaintiff believes and therefore avers that the defendants were willing to pay Bellefonte Borough to go along with their scheme,” Castor wrote.
According to the court documents, Boyde offered the borough a financial incentive to participate in the investigation.
“She can say what she wants,” said Bellefonte Mayor Tom Wilson.
She can say what she wants. The commissioners received a complaint.
Bellefonte Mayor Tom Wilson
“The commissioners received a complaint. They probably would have been negligent not to act on it. They wanted it to be investigated and because it is in the jurisdiction of Bellefonte, that’s what happened,” he said.
Parks Miller’s filing, however, says otherwise. Castor points to the report from the investigating grand jury that heard the case after Parks Miller referred the allegations to the Office of Attorney General.
According to those findings, the Bellefonte police initially felt the matter would be best handled by the state police, but they did bring the case back up after a meeting with commissioners. The grand jury report says that decision was made “on a belief that three weeks had elapsed and no state police action had been taken and as such an immediate investigation was warranted.”
But Castor’s argument is that the commissioners did know that Parks Miller had turned the case over to the OAG. However, he quoted media comments from Dershem that questioned the OAG’s impartiality “given the district attorney’s relationship” with Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Castor, who is also a special assistant district attorney in Centre County, was appointed solicitor general to Kathleen Kane in March. According to recent comments to the CDT, he now serves as chief legal decision-maker for the office since Kane lost her law license last year. He is also serving as OAG spokesman on major issues since the departure of press secretary Chuck Ardo last week.
The core of Parks Miller’s complaint is that there was no reason to seek the search warrant, as there was no criminal intent in her actions, even if there had been a forgery. The grand jury found no grounds to pursue criminal charges in that allegation after two handwriting experts expressed opinions that Ruest’s signature was genuine.
But that decision came months after the warrant was served.
District Attonrey Parks Miller’s aggressive ‘tough on crime’ policy led to great popularity among the public she helped protect, resulting in her overwhelming re-election in 2013.
Stacy Parks Miller’s second amended petition
The other point was the ongoing animosity between the Republican commissioners and the Democratic DA. Castor noted an investigation of Exarchos’ son in connection with a homicide, professional jealousy over Parks Miller’s “great popularity among the public,” and policy differences over issues like sentencing and work release.
Mary Lou Maierhofer represents all of the remaining defendants.
She said Thursday that she is reviewing the complaint but anticipates filing a motion to dismiss in the near future.