Friday, October 3, 2008

Ex-coroner fined for revealing 911 website password

A Pennsylvania judge sentenced a former county coroner to probation for giving newspaper reporters the password to a restricted 911 Website and accused the journalists of violating their professional ethics.

Dr. Gary Kirchner, who left office at the end of last year, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of obstruction of administration of law. He was sentenced to one year of nonreporting probation and fined $500.

Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker praised Kirchner's career as a surgeon and his community involvement, but reminded him that voters placed their trust in him and said his actions could have jeopardized criminal investigations. "This whole scenario does not represent your finest hour," Reinaker said.

Kirchner was charged in February 2007 following a state investigation that included a search of six computer hard drives in the newsroom of the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. Five Intelligencer Journal reporters testified before an investigative grand jury after being granted immunity from prosecutors.

The security breach that resulted in the investigation became evident after the newspaper attributed details in an August 2005 story about a woman's death to the Lancaster County-Wide Communications website. That prompted reporters from the competing Lancaster New Era, which like the Intelligencer Journal is owned by Lancaster Newspapers Inc., to inquire about getting the same information. Prosecutors dropped charges of unlawful use of a computer and criminal conspiracy.

Kirchner, who said he is legally blind and has suffered from an acute blood infection, was in a wheelchair and had difficulty hearing and understanding the judge. "I can only say that this has probably been the worst year of my life," he told Reinaker. He expressed relief that "this nightmare issue is coming to an end."

Kirchner's attorney, Kurt Geishauser, said his client does not remember giving his password to any reporters. (info from Lebanon Daily News, photo from the AP)

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