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Hacker to Be Key in Trial of Judge

Courts: Attorneys for Ronald Kline of Irvine argue that Canadian police had doubts about child porn informant.

April 17, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two months before child pornography charges were filed against an Orange County judge, Canadian authorities expressed "serious doubt" about the work of a hacker who allegedly discovered illegal photographs on the jurist's home computer, according to court documents filed this week.

Police used the information from the unidentified hacker to obtain a search warrant for Judge Ronald C. Kline's home in Irvine, where they allegedly found more than 1,500 computer images of child porn.

The credibility of the hacker--and whether he violated the judge's constitutional rights--are expected to be key elements in Kline's upcoming federal trial.

Kline's attorneys argued in court documents filed Monday that a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigator told Irvine police that the hacker, who lives in Canada, was breaking the law and could not be used as an informant.

"Our problem is how do we continue to receive information from him with the knowledge that the method he is using to extract the information identifying the bad guys is illegal," wrote Investigator George Barnett in a Sept. 6 e-mail to an Irvine detective.

"There is some expectation of privacy on the part of the bad guys."

Irvine police, however, contend that defense attorneys have quoted the e-mail out of context. Investigators said the hacker's methods are irrelevant to the case because he was not acting as an agent of law enforcement when he hacked into Kline's computer.

Barnett's e-mail, they said, discussed the possible legal problems investigators would face if they used future tips from the hacker.

"It had nothing to do with the Kline investigation," Irvine Police Det. Ron Carr said. "It was a conversation between us about using him [the hacker] in the future."

Barnett said through a police spokesman that he could not comment while the case is pending.

Kline, 61, has pleaded not guilty to six charges of possessing child pornography. He also pleaded not guilty to separate state charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy more than two decades ago.

In the latest federal court filing, Kline's attorneys said that others also questioned the hacker's credibility.

The head of Predator-Hunter, a Cleveland-based Internet watchdog group that claimed the hacker as an informant, expressed concerns about the hacker to Irvine police.

Predator-Hunter's founder, Michael Vaughan, wrote to Carr in January:

"I have recently confirmed how horrifyingly dirty [the hacker] is.... [The hacker] appears to represent a greater threat to children than the 'Judge' or any predator we have IDed to date."

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