A federal judge ruled Monday that a Canadian hacker was working as a government informant when he invaded the computers of a former Orange County Superior Court judge accused of possessing child pornography.
The finding could threaten the prosecution's case against Ronald C. Kline, because his attorneys have argued that the computer evidence collected by police flowed from information provided by the hacker.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall in Los Angeles agreed that Kline's 4th Amendment right to privacy was violated. But she did not rule what evidence -- including Kline's diary and hundreds of sexually explicit images of children -- might be suppressed at trial. That question will be taken up March 26.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Deirdre Eliot declined to comment after the hearing. Kline also did not speak with reporters. Kline's attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said only that the judge "ruled in accordance with the rule of law."
Kline has pleaded not guilty to six charges of possessing child pornography. He also pleaded not guilty to separate state charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy more than two decades ago.
He did not run for reelection to his judicial seat last year after fighting to have his name removed from the ballot. He remains under house arrest.
The credibility of the hacker has remained a focus of the case. First referred to as "Citizen Tipster" by police, court documents now identify him as Bradley Willman of Langley, British Columbia.
He calls himself a computer cop and goes by the aliases of "Garbie" and "Omnipotent."
Prosecutors and police maintain that Willman played a limited role in their investigation and worked independently of law enforcement agencies.
They say he was contacted after he anonymously forwarded excerpts of Kline's diary and pornographic images from his hard drives to a pedophile-watchdog Web site known as PedoWatch. Authorities argue that he never worked as a government informant.
But the defense said that Willman, who used a program he developed called "Trojan Horse" to invade Kline's computers and keep track of his online activity, was using a "21st century wiretap" to secretly monitor and remove files and deliver them to police.
Authorities say a November 2001 search of Kline's Irvine home found more than 1,500 computer images of child porn.