Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader (left); DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer; private investigator TJ Ward (top right); and Frank Karic (bottom right) were all charged in connection with a hacking case set at the Gwinnett County courthouse. (Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office mugshots)

Private eye takes plea deal in Gwinnett courthouse hacking case

The private investigator implicated in Gwinnett County’s courthouse hacking saga pleaded out Thursday, receiving downgraded charges in exchange for his testimony as the case against his co-defendants moves forward.

T.J. Ward entered a no lo contendre plea to two counts of misdemeanor criminal trespass and was sentenced to two years of probation. Ward, 65, apologized to the court having to deal with the complicated case, which also involves a local judge and a sex offender.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader — who was suspended last month by the Judicial Qualifications Commission — reportedly hired Ward in February to look into her fears that someone was trying to hack into her work computer.

After being hired, Ward purportedly tasked another man named Frank Karic to install a monitoring device on Schrader’s computer. Ed Kramer, the co-founder of popular Atlanta sci-fi convention DragonCon and a registered sex offender, was then hired to keep tabs on the activity.

Schrader, Ward, Karic and Kramer were all indicted in September on three counts of computer trespass, accused of inappropriately interfering with, removing data from and otherwise “altering” Gwinnett County’s computer network.

Each of the co-defendants entered not guilty pleas during an arraignment hearing last month.

During the Thursday afternoon hearing in which he changed that plea, Ward spoke briefly about the case, saying he’d expressed concern about monitoring Schrader’s work computer but she told him it was OK.

Ward said there was no intent other than to find out who may have been trying to hack into the judge’s computer.

“That’s what we were trying to establish, who was compromising her computers,” Ward said. “That’s it, your honor.”

Kramer granted bond

A few hours after Ward entered his plea, Kramer got news that he would be getting out of jail. Again.

In late September, GBI agents scouring terabytes of data on Kramer’s home computer while investigating the hacking case discovered images that they described as child pornography. They subsequently filed new criminal charges against Kramer and he was taken back to the Gwinnett County jail — just weeks after a deal had been struck to place him on house arrest pending the outcome of the hacking case.

Judge David Sweat on Thursday granted Kramer a $25,000 bond and release him back to house arrest at his Duluth-area home. The same conditions as the previous deal will be in place: he will be under electronic monitoring, have no access to the Internet and only permitted to leave for pre-approved medical and religious purposes.

“Mr. Kramer, house arrest means house arrest,” Sweat said. “They may be keeping a careful eye on you sir.”

A few minutes earlier, Sweat had denied an attempt to have Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter removed from handling Kramer’s new child pornography case.

Kramer’s attorney, Stephen Reba, had filed a motion last month accusing Porter of prosecutorial misconduct.

The lone image described in Kramer’s child pornography indictment was “Popsicle Drips, 1985,” a previously published photograph from provocative photographer Sally Mann. The photo depicts the genitalia of the artist’s young son.

Among other allegations, Reba’s filing accused the district attorney of misleading a grand jury about the nature of the “Popsicle Drips” photo in order to secure an indictment and prevent Kramer from possibly getting bond in yet another case.

Porter, who has been recused from the hacking case due to his role as a witness, said he had considered voluntarily stepping aside in the other Kramer-related cases as well.

“Until I read about the allegations of misconduct, which I deny,” the district attorney said in court. “And also I don’t have an enemy I dislike enough in the prosecution world to burden them with this case.”

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