Gwinnett judge in hacking saga ordered to step aside for GBI inquiry

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader is barred for the next two months from handling any case prosecuted by the local district attorney’s office.

The ruling, handed down Thursday by a visiting judge, is the latest development in a complicated saga involving hacking allegations, an infamous sex offender and an ongoing GBI investigation. It came in response to an unusual motion in which Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter — the subject of the hacking accusations made by Schrader — questioned the judge's ability to be impartial while presiding over her share of the thousands of criminal cases brought by his office.

Visiting Senior Judge John Goger, a longtime Fulton County judge, agreed that Schrader should step aside, for at least the next 60 days.

“I can’t stress this enough, this is just an appearance issue,” said Goger, who was brought in after Gwinnett’s judges recused themselves from a case that has gripped the county’s legal community. “This is no finding of fact that the judge has done anything wrong.”

That part will emerge from an inquiry by the GBI, which is investigating Schrader and the men she reportedly hired to look into fears that her computer was being hacked. Those men, who Porter fears were given illegal access to Gwinnett County’s computer network, include Ed Kramer — the exiled co-founder of Atlanta sci-fi convention Dragon Con who is also a convicted child molester and a longtime nemesis of Porter.

Goger said the issue of Schrader’s recusal will be addressed again at the end of the 60-day period he imposed Thursday. He expressed hope that there would be more answers regarding the GBI’s investigation at that time.

The state agency has released little information on its probe, which started March 11.

Gwinnett Assistant District Attorney Sam d’Entremont, who represented Porter’s interests in Thursday’s brief hearing, didn’t seem especially optimistic about the time frame imposed.

“The GBI said that there is a lot of computer forensic analysis that has to happen,” he said. “That’s going to take some time.”

Porter, who has vehemently denied ever having tried to access Schrader’s computer, declined to comment following the hearing. Schrader, who was first elected to the Superior Court bench in 2012, did not attend.

The judge’s attorney, BJ Bernstein, declined to speak to reporters.

Prior to Thursday's ruling, Schrader had informally stepped aside from handling cases prosecuted by Porter's office and asked colleagues to fill her seat when necessary. She'll now have to step aside based Goger's order; Schrader can still hear civil cases, which rarely if ever involve the DA's office, but Thursday's order bars her from carrying out a significant portion of the judicial responsibilities for which she's paid an annual salary of nearly $179,000.

It has remained unclear why Schrader believed Porter was trying to access her computer. But it was the arrest of one of the district attorney’s most infamous enemies that started the saga that’s now playing out in court.

Kramer, the Dragon Con co-founder first accused of inappropriately touching young boys in 2000, was arrested on Feb. 26 after allegedly taking a photo of a 7-year-old boy at a Lawrenceville doctor's office. In addition to new charges, he was accused of violating the probation still in place following the long-delayed child molestation conviction that came down in 2013.

After Kramer was arrested, a search of his computers found a folder with Schrader’s name on it. According to court documents, subsequent investigation found that Schrader had hired private investigator T.J. Ward to look into her concerns that someone, possibly Porter, was trying to access her work computer.

Ward had another man install a monitoring device on Schrader’s county-issued computer — and then tasked Kramer, whom he has previously employed as a computer forensic analyst, with keeping track of the activity.

After learning that Kramer may have been given access to the county’s computer network, Porter referred the matter to the GBI in early March. The District Attorney’s Office is no longer directly involved in the investigation. Porter has asked the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to assign a outside prosecutor to review the GBI’s investigation when it’s completed and determine if a criminal case is warranted.

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