One week after voting to obtain special counsel after hearing forgery allegations against Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, commissioners have approved a contract for those services.
The Carlisle-based firm of Abom and Kutulakis will provide legal advice to the county while investigations on the accusations are conducted, Commissioner Steve Dershem said. The law office has no cases pending in Centre County and is “completely removed” from the local criminal justice system, Commissioner Michael Pipe said.
The firm will receive hourly rates of $125 for out-of-court attorneys fees, $170 for in-court attorneys fees and $95 for paralegal or law clerk services.
County Administrator Tim Boyde said last week that money for counsel would come from the county’s general fund, and the total cost would be dependent on the length of the investigation and possible prosecution.
“I don’t know if it has a duration until we get to the bottom of some issues,” Dershem said of the contract at the meeting.
After the meeting, commissioners responded to a petition filed by one of Parks Miller’s attorneys in Centre County Court on Monday. Although entered in Centre County Court, an order signed by Judge Pamela A. Ruest and dated Jan. 23 disqualified any Centre County judges from hearing anything regarding Parks Miller and assigned the matter to Clinton County President Judge Craig P. Miller.
The document was to compel Bellefonte police, who executed a search warrant of the District Attorney’s Office on Saturday night, to return the items taken because police lacked probable cause. She also alleged the department lacked jurisdiction to execute the warrant because any investigation should be handled by the Attorney General’s Office, to which she had already referred the matter.
Later in the petition, Parks Miller alleged that commissioners are engaging in “official repression” for various reasons, including the investigation of Commissioner Chris Exarchos’ son in relation to a homicide and conflicts over policy, such as the length of prison sentences.
She also maintained that commissioners conspired with county solicitor Louis Glantz and local attorneys Bernard Cantorna and Philip Masorti to falsely attack her “with actual malice” in retaliation for doing her job.
“I think the allegations are so patently ridiculous, I don’t think they warrant comment,” Dershem said.
Exarchos described bringing up things like an alleged conspiracy, past disagreements over policy or the case against his son as a “diversion” that has nothing to do with the forgery accusations.
“Let’s stay focused on the issue at hand, get to the bottom of it and move forward with it,” he said.
Pipe said he harbored no “ill will” toward the district attorney and will put the matter aside when commissioners have to work with her in official capacities as the investigation continues.
There was no reason to authorize the special counsel other than a former employee coming forward with the forgery allegation, he added.
“There’s no other issues that entered my decision-making,” Pipe said.
Parks Miller also alleged in the petition that the board voted to authorize the special counsel with knowledge that the Attorney General’s Office was conducting an investigation. Commissioners denied awareness of involvement by the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the meeting last week.
Bruce Castor Jr., the attorney who filed the petition, responded to the contract in a letter to the commissioners.
Citing the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, the law that established the Attorney General’s Office, Castor wrote that that office has criminal jurisdiction when conflicts arise with district attorneys, and they are aware of the office’s involvement “whether you knew before.”
“I respectfully request you permit OAG to do its statutory duty and desist from any further collateral action that would circumvent the provisions of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act,” Castor wrote.