The Commonwealth Court said in June that it didn’t think it was the right body to decide a case between Centre County and its district attorney.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court agreed.
The court issued an order granting the petition from DA Stacy Parks Miller to appeal one of the questions in the case.
“The issue, rephrased for clarity, is: Do district attorneys and their offices constitute judicial agencies as defined under...the Right to Know Law...?” the court’s order read.
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Parks Miller’s attorney, Bruce Castor, was “very encouraged” by the decision, saying it was very rare.
The county’s counsel, Mary Lou Maierhofer, was more surprised.
“I am shocked that they granted review of this issue of whether a district attorney and their office constitutes ‘judicial agencies’ as defined under the Right to Know Law,” she said. “This goes against the PA Constitution that states the DA is a ‘county official.’ It goes against the rationale of years of case law that hold the DA as part of the county.”
The root of the case is the months of back-and-forth controversy between the DA’s office on one side and the county and some defense attorneys on the other.
In 2015, a group of attorneys brought forward allegations to the county that Parks Miller had forged a fake bail order signed by Judge Pamela Ruest as part of an investigation into death threats against an assistant DA. The case was investigated by the state attorney general’s office and presented to a grand jury, which decided the signature was not a forgery and declined to prosecute.
However, Right to Know requests submitted by the attorneys were not handled properly, Parks Miller argued, saying the county should not have turned over cellphone records that pointed to contact between the DA’s office and judges.
Parks Miller claims that her office is a judicial agency and the county has no right to reveal such information. The county maintains the DA position is a county row office and therefore it was appropriate.
Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart Kurtz agreed. A Commonwealth Court ruling in March had both the county and the DA claiming victory.
The case is just one of a hodgepodge of legal issues before different courts in the feud between the county and its top law enforcement officer.
Castor said that if the Supreme Court verdict cuts in Parks Miller’s favor, it would help the appeal of the federal lawsuit Parks Miller brought against the county, its officials, the defense attorneys, Ruest and the DA’s former paralegal who testified to the forgery. That case was dismissed by U.S. Judge Matthew Brann.