All four defendants charged in Gwinnett County's convoluted courthouse hacking saga entered not guilty pleas Thursday afternoon.
Each of the defendants — including sitting Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader and DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer — were present for a brief arraignment hearing, scattered across the courtroom gallery as attorneys spoke on their behalf. Their not guilty pleas mean the case against them will move forward. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Schrader, Kramer, private investigator T.J. Ward and another man named Frank Karic were all indicted last month, charged with three counts apiece of felony computer trespass. They're accused of unlawfully accessing, interfering with and removing data from the Gwinnett County computer network.
The case is a complex one.
According to court documents and previous statements made by authorities, Schrader — who has been a judge on Gwinnett’s highest court since 2012 — hired Ward in February because she feared someone was trying to hack into her work computer. The judge reportedly suspected that the would-be hacker was Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.
It remains unclear why Schrader thought as much. Porter has vehemently denied the allegation.
After he was hired, Ward allegedly tasked Karic with installing a WireShark monitoring device on Schrader’s work computer. Ward then reportedly employed Kramer — a convicted sex offender who has worked as a computer forensic analyst — to keep tabs on the activity.
All of that came to light following Kramer's unrelated Feb. 26 arrest for allegedly taking a photo of a young child at a Lawrenceville doctor's office. Investigators from Lawrenceville police and Porter's office were doing an initial search of Kramer's home computer when they reportedly found a folder labeled with Schrader's name.
Because Schrader’s original hacking fears involved him, Porter then turned the hacking investigation over to the GBI.
A Gwinnett grand jury handed up an indictment charging Schrader, Kramer, Ward and Karic on Sept. 18.
GBI investigators are still digging through the terabytes of data on Kramer’s computer and it could still be months before they complete the investigation. But their work has already led to additional charges against Kramer, who co-founded the popular Atlanta sci-fi convention DragonCon but has not been directly involved for years.
Less than two weeks ago, the GBI charged Kramer with a new count of possession of child pornography after reportedly finding several images among the files being extracted from his computer. On Wednesday, prosecutors secured a corresponding indictment.
Schrader, meanwhile, stopped handling criminal cases brought by Porter's office in April, when the district attorney filed a motion questioning her capacity to be impartial. But she had continued presiding over civil cases.
The judge’s status is currently being reviewed by Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Council, which will decide if she should continue on the bench while her own criminal case is ongoing.
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Credit: Channel 2 Action News