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June 6, 2007

CT Sub Teacher Gets Verdict Set Aside in Porn Case, and Other Legal Developments

Law and Tech have been busy in the press today.  Four decisions have barreled through to be noteworthy.  The most significant is that involving Julie Amero, a 40 year old substitute teacher in a Norwich, Connecticut middle school.  Amero was convicted in a case where she allowed students to view pornographic images on a classroom computer.  Amero claimed that the pictures were due to pop-ups gone amok.  She also attempted to physically stop students from seeing the images, though unsuccessfully.  Amero had reported the situation earlier in the day and was told not to turn off the computer under any circumstances.  Other teachers had said the pop-ups were annoying and they seemed to ignore them.  They were speaking of pop-ups generally and not of any pornography they might contain.  The jury convicted Amero on the basis she let the images come through.  They didn't consider that the images appeared were not her fault.  Amero faced a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

The verdict was set aside today. The judge in the case cited erroneous evidence offered by the state's computer expert which could have affected the jury's understanding of the facts.  The state police crime lab examined the computer after Amero had been convicted and supplied a report that the Judge said contradicted the "expert," a police detective.  A defense forensic computer expert was barred from testifying at the trial as well.  The state declined to take a stand on the verdict set-aside, which meant that Amero would likely not face retrial, though she will still face the proposition of limited career choices and a whopping legal bill. 

Brian Krebs column/blog on the Washington Post has a lot of good information about the details that were developed at trial, including links to the 340 plus page trial transcript that was included in the story on the Norwich Bulletin.  There were lapses such as the school district not renewing the license for security software, and other details which made this case questionable in the way it was handled.

Krebs and other reporters noted the Judge's statement that bloggers covering the trial had tried to improperly influence the case.  I'm not sure what this means as none of the initial reports on the case go into detail.  If it means that bloggers wrote negative things about the state's case and supported Amero, well, that's their right.  If they encouraged readers to contact or harass a judge about decisions, that may cross a legal line.  There is prosecution for that, potentially.  The judge should do what all good judges do, and that is ignore outside comment where a trial has notoriety.  The President and other top government officials sent letters to Judge Walton in the Libby trial and that didn't seem to faze him in handing down a sentence.  Aside from this side comment, the judge appeared to rule on the record and not public sentiment.

The other three cases are in short notes on CNET.  The first of these involves a Pennsylvania man who filed a petition to recover property lost due to a tax sale.  The county tried to contact him by looking him up in Google.  That wasn't enough effort said the Commonwealth Court, especially since the notice law required the county to use a phone book.  The moral, Google doesn't know everything.

The second is the story of an attorney working for one of the defendants in an RIAA file sharing suit.  Thomas Kimble asked for sanctions against the RIAA attorneys and got slapped with the same himself. He was rather aggressive in his defense, filing questionable documents, refusing to talk to some Association attorneys, and offered only to let them see discoverable evidence unless they agreed to pay $10,000 if it showed the defendant wasn't engaging in copyright infringement.  The judge was not pleased and ordered Kimble to pay RIAA costs for defending against his frivolous actions.  I wonder if this will affect his Avvo lawyer rating.

The third also comes out of Pennsylvania.  It concerns a convicted sex offender who was ordered not to use a computer under any circumstances ever for the rest of his life.  That included employment or education.  On appeal, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban was a bit too broad and ordered resentencing.  The opinion is here.

June 6, 2007 | Permalink


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