By Amanda C. Coyne, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Aug 26, 2019
Gwinnett County's courts expect to pay nearly $77,000 extra to make sure one of its trial divisions is covered while a GBI investigation is underway involving a Superior Court judge.
The trial division that has required additional coverage since April is that of Judge Kathryn Schrader. County officials would not confirm Monday that it is her long-term recusal from criminal cases that is causing the extra expense. She is under investigation by the GBI after hiring a well-known sex offender to monitor activity on the county's computer network.
The proposed $76,901 budget increase for senior Superior Court judges was relayed to the county’s budget committee by Chief Judge George Hutchinson III in a Monday morning presentation. The committee is hearing 2020 budget requests from county departments this week.
The budget for the administrative office of the courts covers superior, state, magistrate and recorder’s courts in Gwinnett County. The office requested a total budget of more than $20 million.
“We have faced some surprising challenges in making sure we have coverage for one of our trial divisions,” Hutchinson said. Hutchinson declined to comment when asked which trial division he was referring to.
In a July court hearing, Schrader was barred from hearing criminal court cases, meaning she has been recused from more than 400 criminal cases since April, forcing the county to hire outside judges to hear those cases in the meantime. District Attorney Danny Porter demanded the recusal after he alleged Schrader allowed a convicted criminal access to the county’s network. Schrader has not previously commented on the case and did not respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
According to court documents, Schrader had hired a private investigator in February to look into worries that someone was trying to remotely access her work computer outside of business hours. Schrader has never explained why she purportedly feared that Porter himself was trying to hack into her computer. The investigator she hired, TJ Ward, had a monitoring device installed on Schrader’s county-owned computer. Ward hired Ed Kramer, a co-founder of DragonCon and a convicted child molester, to follow the activity. Kramer has been previously employed by Ward as a computer forensic analyst.
County investigators discovered Kramer was working with Schrader after Kramer was arrested on unrelated charges Feb. 26, according to court documents filed by Porter. Kramer was charged with taking a photo of a child at a doctor’s office; the criminal charge also violates his probation related to a 2013 conviction on multiple counts of child molestation. Police searched Kramer’s home after the arrest and found a computer file with Schrader’s name on it, according to Porter.
Kramer said in court filings he found “clear signs … of exploitive activity” on Schrader’s computer and was preparing an analysis of his findings before his arrest. Kramer has asked for Porter to be removed from his criminal case and has implied that Porter had him arrested because of his work for Schrader. Porter has denied this, saying his office only learned about Kramer’s work with Schrader after Kramer’s computer was seized.
Porter has handed the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into whether Schrader’s actions allowed unauthorized access to Gwinnett County’s computer network.
Schrader, who receives a $179,000 salary, continues to hear civil cases, as the recusal only applies to cases in which Porter and the DA’s office are involved.
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