Archive for Wednesday, November 17, 2004

County attorney: Report unfounded

Visits to porn sites part of investigation

November 17, 2004

Leavenworth County Atty. Frank Kohl came out swinging last week, after a Kansas City television station broadcast a report that left the impression Kohl used his office computer to view pornography -- for personal reasons.

"It seems to me to be pretty malicious," Kohl said. "When you're on this end of the bullets, you certainly feel that way."

Last Wednesday night, KCTV-5 aired a report about a Leavenworth County Information Systems employee who was looking in on Kohl's office computer as the county attorney visited sexually explicit Internet sites. It is not unusual for computer technicians to log onto to computers remotely, by using access codes.

The employee, concerned about what she saw, reported it to her supervisor.

The televised report left the impression that -- although Kohl said the visits to porn sites were part of ongoing investigations -- he was visiting the sites for personal, not professional, reasons.

In an interview with The Mirror, Kohl denied he was looking at pornography on county-owned computers for personal reasons.

"It was a spurious, unfounded witch hunt and a lynching," Kohl said. "When you have the airwaves and you want to sell commercials, that's what you do."

Kohl said that at times his office will receive telephone calls from members of the public concerned about what they've received via e-mail.

"They'll say, I got an e-mail that was horrible, and they say, by God, I think this is illegal," Kohl said.

So someone in the county attorney's office -- and even the county attorney himself -- will check out the complaint.

"The thing that irritated me about it was when KCTV-5 did their report, it was: Guilty until proven innocent," Kohl said. "Do you think that we would be stupid enough to leave information on our computer if it wasn't supposed to be here? If we had something to hide?"

A bigger issue

The incident involving Kohl's computer -- and the role played by the county's Information Systems when working on computers -- raises broader questions than Frank Kohl's activity. For some time, questions have been raised by Sheriff Herb Nye about IS workers looking at sensitive material stored on computers -- information about criminal investigations, pending court cases, health department records.

"I think there needs to be more discussion in this area," Nye said. "To be quite frank with you, I'm leery to have IS come over here and do anything on our computers right now because of what might be misinterpreted."

Nye, who leaves office in January, believes the criminal justice arm of the county should have its own computer technicians, but county commissioners have said no money exists to fund a position solely for those offices.

Nye said he's also concerned about information that his detectives have on their computers, along with judges' computers.

"Do you expect us to go home on our own computers and do this?" Nye said. "I've warned the commissioners about this."

And Nye, himself, has visited what might be considered questionable Web sites.

"I know I've delved into things when I've had complaints to see if there's anything worthwhile, before I send it on to detectives," the sheriff said. ''... Frank Kohl's office door is always open. I mean open. He props it open. Who would think Frank Kohl would have anything like that going on -- nobody who deals with him."

And he's concerned that confidentiality has been breached.

"I was going under the assumption that what is seen here stays here. ... To find that this little thing got out to the news media leads me to believe we have a major leak some place," Nye said. "How do you plug it? I think somebody should be held accountable for this."

How did it happen?

According to Larry Malbrough, Information Systems director, this was how his office ended up on the 6 o'clock news with the county attorney.

On June 30, one of the two technicians employed by the IS department had been asked to work on a computer in the county attorney's office, but the technician -- who was working from her office computer -- keyed in the wrong computer code to gain remote access to the troubled computer. So, the technician ended up viewing Kohl's computer screen.

"She saw something pornographic," Malbrough said. "And she was upset by that."

The technician reported the incident to her supervisor, and Malbrough said, the question in the IS department became whether to file an official complaint or a report. An official complaint would have required an investigation and a board being convened to try to determine the extent of any problem.

"She chose to report it," Malbrough said, instead of filing an official complaint.

The report went to the technician's supervisor, who is the IS deputy director, and then to Malbrough, who forwarded it, along with his own comments on July 2 to his bosses -- the three-member Leavenworth County Commission.

"It wasn't an official complaint," Malbrough said. "This is just a report of what she saw."

Malbrough, who has been IS director for about five years, said he heard nothing more about the incident for several months.

"The next thing I start hearing is about this Channel 5 guy," Malbrough said.

It is Malbrough's understanding that the television reporter received anonymous e-mails that fed the reporter details about the pornographic material on Kohl's computer.

"I still don't know if it was one of my staff members who leaked it to Channel 5 or not," he said. "If it was one of my staff members, I definitely would be concerned. I definitely think it is a serious problem."

What's next

Malbrough, who watched the television report, was upset by it, and he relayed that in a telephone conversation to Kohl.

"I don't think it was fair and balanced," he said. ''... I don't think Leavenworth County needs a black eye on something, when we don't know that anybody did anything wrong. Frank said it should have been there. Fine. My employee had a problem with it. Fine."

And while Malbrough doesn't agree with the sheriff that a separate IS department should be established for the county's criminal justice system because of the expense and other issues, Malbrough does agree that this incident will spark a lot of discussion about the issue. And he's hopeful the issue can be resolved amicably.

"I'm just hoping, when the smoke clears, we're going to come out with some improvement and no hard feelings -- and a better understanding of what other departments are like," Malbrough said.

As for Kohl, he's upset about how he was portrayed, and that a county employee apparently leaked information to a television station.

"That seems to me to be a real serious question," he said. "I don't know how IS is going to deal with that."

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