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Prosecutors Boost Child-Porn Claim Against O.C. Judge

Courts: They say Ronald Kline stored more than 1,500 images of boys and dispute the defense's contention that a hacker could have planted them.

April 10, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal prosecutors have dramatically increased the number of nude child photos they claim Orange County Judge Ronald C. Kline stored on his computer and assert it would have been virtually impossible for a hacker to plant them, according to court documents obtained Tuesday.

Authorities say more than 1,500 computer images of young boys were found at Kline's home, including nude and "hard-core" photographs showing children having sex. Until now, federal prosecutors had placed the figure at more than 100.

Additionally, prosecutors allege many of the images were downloaded well before a Canadian tipster hacked his way into Kline's computer last year. The hacker passed on information about the photos to an Internet watchdog group in Colorado, which in turn alerted police.

Kline's attorneys have suggested that the hacker could have planted the photos himself. They have also questioned whether the unidentified hacker was acting as a police agent when he broke into the judge's home computer.

If the hacker was acting on behalf of law enforcement, a judge would probably throw out the evidence taken from Kline's home, ruling that it was obtained as a result of an illegal search.

But in a sharply worded response filed Monday, prosecutors dismissed the defense attorneys' theory as "farfetched" and highlighted Kline's admissions to detectives about his sexual attraction to young boys.

"In light of [Kline's] insatiable interest in naked young boys, the 'tipster did it' defense is ludicrous," prosecutors wrote.

Kline's attorney, Paul S. Meyer, declined to comment on the new filing. Kline, 61, has pleaded not guilty to six federal charges of possessing child pornography. The charges are based on the number of locations--such as hard drives and floppy discs--where images are stored, not the number of images.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Deirdre Eliot said prosecutors may file a new count against Kline once they finish analyzing images found on his courthouse computer.

Kline also faces separate state charges of child molestation, to which he pleaded not guilty.

The latest filing by prosecutors provides new details about an interview Kline gave detectives on Nov. 5, four days before he was criminally charged. The judge allegedly told police that he never intentionally downloaded illegal pornography and deleted any pictures that might violate the law.

"I mean, I know what the law is," Kline told detectives, according to court records. "If I looked at anything inappropriate off the Internet, I didn't mean to keep it."

Kline allegedly told detectives that he believes children can be "emotionally hurt" having sex with adults so he involves himself only with boys who are interested.

"I'm not going to take advantage of somebody who doesn't want to," Kline told detectives, according to the court filing.

In the new court papers, prosecutors acknowledge that the hacker helped Canadian police with one Internet-related case. But they strongly denied he ever acted as a police agent. Indeed, prosecutors contend he was actually considered a "potential suspect" in at least three U.S. Customs Service investigations of child pornographers.

In one 1998 case, undercover customs agents watched a man in New York download a computer movie from the hacker that showed boys having sex. In another investigation last year, agents searched the home of a child pornographer in California and found the name and address of the hacker on a piece of paper. There is no evidence that the agents in those cases ever tried to contact the hacker.

Kline's attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall to allow them to question the hacker about his relationship with law enforcement. Prosecutors have opposed the request. Marshall is scheduled to rule on the matter in Los Angeles on April 22.

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