DA in Penn State Frat Case Has Hearing for Possible Professional Misconduct

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller faces November disciplinary board hearing

The lead prosecutor handling the case against Penn State fraternity members charged after a pledge died faces a hearing of her own in front of the state board that deals with complaints about lawyers.

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court this week scheduled the Nov. 29 hearing to consider whether Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller committed professional misconduct in texts with judges that discussed pending cases and by using a fake Facebook account to obtain information on defendants.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel's petition for discipline filed in February said Parks Miller contacted judges about cases without informing defense lawyers. It said she misled the disciplinary counsel's investigators.

Parks Miller said Friday she is willing to answer for her conduct and looks forward to presenting the facts at the hearing.

"The true operations in Centre County are very disturbing and always have been as long as I have been privy to behind the scenes," Parks Miller said. "I am more than willing to ... be truthful and have my behavior be measured."

The petition claims a February 2013 email about bail included the defendant's lawyer and several other people but after Judge Bradley Lunsford responded directly to Parks Miller alone she then replied only to him that he should rescind his bail order.

"He is already gone," Lunsford replied.

Parks Miller has argued she did not realize the judge had stripped other respondents off the email.

Disciplinary Counsel Anthony Czuchnicki wrote that in May 2014 Parks Miller wrote directly to Lunsford about a different case, asking him: "Are you serious? Scheduling a hearing with me and a pro se inmate ... making me answer to him about the complaints he filed about guards?"

Lunsford, who has since left the bench, later canceled the hearing. A phone listing for Lunsford could not be located.

Czuchnicki said that email exchange was an example of conduct that undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Parks Miller admitted on Friday the email about the inmate was "improper." She said the dispute with Czuchnicki's office is over what the appropriate sanction should be.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel said it recovered 15 partial texts from Parks Miller's cellphone to another Centre County common pleas court jurist, Judge Jonathan Grine, also in May 2014, sent the day after a trial. They included references to the judge laughing and speculating about the "poor kid's" family and a suggestion regarding restitution.

Grine gave the defendant three years and ordered restitution. Grine did not return a phone message Friday.

In October 2014, Czuchnicki wrote, Parks Miller did not correct Lunsford when he denied during a recusal hearing that there had been text exchanges between them, despite the fact he sent her 89 texts from May to October that year.

Parks Miller on Friday defended her decision in May 2011 to set up the bogus Facebook account, under the pseudonym Britney Bella, saying it was part of a legitimate law enforcement operation into local head shops selling bath salts.

Czuchnicki called the Facebook account an example of "dishonest and deceitful" conduct that violated the state's rules for lawyers' conduct.

The fake account ended up being friends with at least two people who were defendants but did not have lawyers.

Parks Miller, Czuchnicki wrote, should've known the unrepresented people she was connecting to through the Britney Bella account "misunderstood her role in the matter" and she "failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the misunderstanding."

In the Penn State fraternity case, 18 members of now-closed Beta Theta Pi and the fraternity face charges in the February death of pledge Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey. Some are accused of aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter, while others face less serious allegations that include evidence tampering, hazing and alcohol violations. A preliminary hearing for the fraternity and 16 defendants has already lasted five days, with three more scheduled for later this month.

Parks Miller lost the Democratic primary earlier this year and will be out of office in January.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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