Friday, February 09, 2007

Lancaster County Coroner Charged Criminally

On October 6, 2006, I posted "In Amish Tragedy, Autopsies Required, Acceptance & Faith Abound", which related to the schoolhouse shooting on October 2, 2006, in Lancaster County, that drew worldwide attention. My posting focused on the role of Dr. George G. Kirchner as Lancaster County's investigating, elected Coroner. Now, he is under indictment for his operations of the Office of Coroner.

On February 5, 2007, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced, in a Press Release, that computer crime and conspiracy charges were filed against that Coroner.

[A]gents from the Attorney General's Public Corruption Unit have filed criminal charges against Lancaster County Coroner George Gary Kirchner, M.D., accused of compromising the security of the Lancaster County 9-1-1 computer system and conspiring to provide newspaper reporters with illegal access to confidential information.

Corbett said that Kirchner, 73, of 610 Millcross Road, Lancaster, was charged today following an extensive grand jury investigation by the Attorney General's Office concerning unauthorized access to confidential information stored on a 9-1-1 system website operated by the Lancaster Countywide Communications system. * * *

According to the Press Release, the grand jury found that Kirchner conspired to provide reporters from the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal newspaper with unauthorized access to confidential information on the Lancaster 9-1-1 website. The grand jury also found that in 2005, confidential information from the secure section of the 9-1-1 website was included in articles published by the Intelligencer Journal.

The Press Release contained a link to the nineteen-page Grand Jury Report , which reported specific findings that led to the criminal charges. That Report reveals much data obtained by the Attorney General's Office through subpoenas issued to third-parties and in oral testimony before the "Twenty-Fourth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury".

The crimes charged include:
  • Unlawful use of computer and other computer crimes, under 18 Pa. Consolidated Statues §7611(a)(1). A person violates this criminal statute if he, “intentionally or knowingly and without authorization gives or publishes a password, identifying code, personal identification number or other confidential information about a computer, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunications device.”
  • Unlawful use of a computer under 18 PA.C.S. §7611 (a)(2). This crime involves anyone who, “intentionally and without authorization accesses or exceeds authorization to access … any computer, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device”.
  • Criminal conspiracy under 18 Pa. C.S. §903. This crime involves persons acting “with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of a crime,” when a person “agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such a crime.”
The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal published six articles on the matter since the indictment was announced, and to date:
  • "Kirchner disputes jury’s findings", by Jeff Hawkes (02/07/07):

    Lancaster County Coroner Dr. G. Gary Kirchner said Tuesday he is disappointed, but not angry, with reporters who provided grand jury testimony leading to his arrest on charges he gave them a password to a restricted part of the county's 911 communications Web site.

    "Anger is not my shtick," Kirchner said in a phone interview in which he said he has no memory of providing Intelligencer Journal reporters with his password to a Web log of incidents for the coroner, fire officials and emergency responders. * * *

  • "Defiant coroner fires back", by Tom Murse & Janet Kelley (02-06/07):

    "Lancaster County Coroner Dr. G. Gary Kirchner came out swinging today, saying he is innocent of felony criminal charges and that Intelligencer Journal reporters who testified against him did so "in violation of all journalistic ethics."

    Kirchner, by turns defiant and angry, also disputed the newspaper's claim that its reporters believed he, as the elected coroner, had the authority to grant them access to sensitive information on a county 911 Web.

    "They were not permitted into that Web site," Kirchner said today. "If I gave you an ATM number, does that authorize you to clean out my bank account? That argument is thin."

    "And if that's the case, why do they have to seek immunity from prosecution?" Kirchner asked. "If they're innocent and nothing wrong has been accomplished, and everybody agrees to that, they don't need to seek immunity from prosecution. They don't need to testify against me if that argument is correct." * * *

  • See also: AG accuses coroner of violating 911 site (02/06/07); The long and winding feud (02/06/07); Pa. charges coroner with breach of secret police files (02/05/07); and Kirchner term marked by errors, disputes (02/05/07).
Neither the testifying reporters, nor their publications, were charged.

The Intelligencer Journal carried a front-page editorial on February 6, 2007, indicating
that its staff did nothing wrong by accessing the Web site, despite the site's separate warnings that it was to be accessed "for official and Government business by authorized personnel." However, the Editorial admitted that Kirchner freely provided his password to the coroner's section of the 911 Web site to an Intell staff member who accessed the site over a period of many months.

Somewhat related is an article published in the Lancaster New Era twelve days before the indictment was announced. See:
"Diamantoni enters coroner race", published January 24, 2007:
Dr. Steve Diamantoni has announced that he will challenge incumbent Dr. G. Gary Kirchner in the Republican primary for the coroner's post.

Diamantoni, a family physician and former Lancaster City Council president, said he wants to bring a spirit of cooperation to the way the coroner's office interacts with other law-enforcement agencies.
"Timing in life is everything."

Leonard Maltin, American Literary Critic

Update: 10/15/08:

The prosecution ended in a plea and a sentencing in Lancaster County Court, according to "Ex-coroner who gave password is sentenced" posted September 24, 2008, by the Morning Call (Allentown, PA):
A judge on Tuesday sentenced a former county coroner to probation for giving newspaper reporters the password to a restricted 911 Web site and accused the journalists of violating their professional ethics.

Dr. Gary Kirchner, who left office at the end of last year, pleaded no contest Tuesday 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. * * *