Mugshot of Judge Kathryn Schrader 

Judge Kathryn Schrader

Photo: � 2019 Cox Media Group.
Photo: � 2019 Cox Media Group.

State panel suspends judge at center of Gwinnett hacking saga

The Gwinnett County judge at the center of a courthouse hacking investigation has been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case against her.

Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission handed down its ruling against Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader on Wednesday, nearly a month after she and three co-defendants were indicted on felony computer trespass charges. Schrader is accused of triggering a strange — and illegal — series of events by hiring a private investigator to look into her fears that someone was trying to access her work computer. 

Previous coverage: Attorney disputes child porn charge based on artist’s photograph

In its ruling, the JQC’s hearing panel wrote that Schrader’s alleged actions and the subsequent criminal charges had adversely affected her ability to do her job.

“The Panel further finds that Judge Schrader’s personal decision to allow an outside third party to gain access to the County’s network — with its many subsequent repercussions, including the discovery that Judge Schrader’s actions allegedly enabled a convicted child molester to have access to Court data — also adversely affects the administration of that office, as well as the rights and interests of the public,” wrote Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, the presiding officer of the JQC panel.

Schrader’s attorney, BJ Bernstein, issued a brief statement Wednesday, saying the judge respects the JQC and its decision to issue a suspension "until a jury has the opportunity to hear all the facts and circumstances that support her plea of not guilty."

The criminal case into Schrader and her co-defendants starting following the February arrest of Ed Kramer, the exiled co-founder of sci-fi convention DragonCon and a convicted sex offender. After Kramer was arrested for allegedly taking a picture of a 7-year-old boy in a doctor’s office, investigators searching his home computer reportedly found a file with Schrader’s name on it.

A Gwinnett County judge has been indicted on suspicion of hiring private investigators and a convicted felon to monitor her work computer, allowing them improper access to the county’s network.

According to authorities, subsequent investigation found that Schrader had hired a private investigator named TJ Ward to look into her fears that her computer was being hacked — potentially by Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. 

The basis for that allegation has remained unclear. Porter has denied any wrongdoing. 

After Ward was hired, he reportedly tasked man named Frank Karic to install a monitoring device on Schrader’s computer.

Kramer, who has worked as a computer forensic analyst, was then tapped to track the activity. 

The indictment handed up on Sept. 18 accuses Schrader, Ward, Karic and Kramer of interfering with, removing data from and otherwise “altering” Gwinnett County’s computer network.

All four defendants entered not guilty pleas during an Oct. 10 arraignment hearing. The next hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for Nov. 7.

Because Porter was at the center of Schrader’s original hacking fears, the judge recused herself from handling criminal cases brought by the district attorney’s office since April. But she had continued handling civil cases. 

Wednesday’s JQC ruling means that will cease.

A group of rotating senior judges has handled Schrader’s Gwinnett caseload in her absence. Officials have estimated that the cost of paying replacement judges could be nearly $77,000.

Schrader was first elected to the Gwinnett County Superior Court bench in 2012 and makes a salary of $179,000. She will be paid during her suspension.

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