Gwinnett judge sidelined while GBI mines mountain of hacking case data

From left, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader and Ed Kramer, convicted child molester and co-founder of DragonCon. SPECIAL PHOTOS

From left, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader and Ed Kramer, convicted child molester and co-founder of DragonCon. SPECIAL PHOTOS

The GBI needs more time to review the unprecedented amount of data being mined for evidence in a computer hacking saga that's playing out at the Gwinnett County courthouse, a special agent testified Tuesday.

That means Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader — who triggered the investigation by hiring a well-known sex offender to monitor activity on the county's computer network — will remain sidelined for at least two more months, leaving hundreds of her criminal cases to be handled by other judges.

“We simply have not seen [data] of this size in any investigation at the Georgia Cyber Crime Center,” GBI Special Agent Sara Lue said.

Lue was the sole witness to take the stand during a brief Tuesday morning hearing that ended with Schrader being barred for 60 more days from handling any cases prosecuted by the office of Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.

Schrader was originally ordered to recuse herself from presiding over cases brought by Porter’s office in May, a few weeks after it was alleged that she allowed convicted sex-offender Ed Kramer to monitor tracking software uploaded to her county computer. For reasons still unknown, Schrader purportedly feared that Porter himself was trying to hack into her computer.

The judge hired private investigator TJ Ward to look into her suspicions. Ward then tasked Kramer, the former co-founder of popular sci-fi convention Dragon Con and a longtime legal foe of Porter’s, with tracking the activity.

Porter, who has denied trying to access Schrader's computer, said he became aware of the alleged arrangement following Kramer's unrelated arrest earlier this year.

Fearing he could’ve been given access to the county’s larger computer network, Porter turned the case over to the GBI.

As part of its investigation, the state agency has seized one of Kramer’s home computers — a piece of equipment that officials said Tuesday has an estimated 20 terabytes of data to dig through.

Gwinnett Assistant District Attorney Sam d’Entremont, who is representing Porter is the recusal matter, likened that amount of data to “twice the volume of data stored at the entire Library of Congress.”

Lue, the GBI agent leading the investigation, testified Tuesday that the agency has thus far sifted through just 20 percent of the data. She said it would likely take “several more months” to complete the search for evidence.

Visiting Senior Judge John Goger sided in May with Porter's original motion to have Schrader recused from handling criminal cases, agreeing that the investigation could create the appearance of Schrader's impartiality being jeopardized.

Goger agreed Tuesday to extend the recusal order but urged investigators to work quickly.

“I appreciate your effort,” Goger said, “but please try to bring this to a close as soon as possible.”

Schrader, whose annual salary is just shy of $179,000, remains able to handle civil cases, which do not involve the district attorney’s office. But her recusal from cases brought by Porter’s office means she’s unable to carry out a significant portion of her duties.

Outside judges — including a pair of recently retired Gwinnett judges — have been brought in to take her place.

D’Entremont said paying those additional judges has created a “noticeable but not catastrophic” impact on the court system’s budget. He did not provide a specific dollar amount.

Officials said courtroom business has moved along smoothly.

“There has been no negative impact on the business of our courtroom as a result of the recusal,” Angela Mattozzi, the managing assistant district attorney for Schrader’s division, told the AJC. “It has been business as usual.”