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Ex-Judge to Admit to Possessing Child Porn

Times Staff Writer

Former Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald C. Kline has agreed to plead guilty to possessing child pornography on his home computer, ending a four-year legal battle in which he protested that his privacy rights had been violated by the computer hacker who turned him in to authorities.

Kline, who has been under house arrest since 2001, is scheduled to enter his plea to four criminal counts Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Under terms of a plea agreement filed Friday, the 64-year-old jurist will face a possible 27 to 33 months in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender with California authorities. He could have received a 30-year prison term had he been convicted at a trial.

“We’re pleased that Mr. Kline has decided to accept responsibility,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Deirdre Z. Eliot said of the plea agreement. Kline’s lead attorney, Paul S. Meyer, declined to comment Friday.

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Kline was arrested in November 2001 after a Canadian hacker broke into his home computer and discovered hundreds of images of young boys engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Bradley Willman, who tracked Kline from a sexually explicit website, forwarded his findings to a Colorado-based Internet watchdog group, Pedowatch, which then relayed the information to Irvine police.

The arrest drew national attention and forced Kline out of a race for reelection.

In 2003, however, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall tossed out most of the government’s evidence against Kline, finding that Willman, a self-described “computer cop,” acted as a government agent when he illegally broke into Kline’s computer.

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In one ruling, Marshall barred prosecutors from using 1,500 pornographic photos of young boys and sexually explicit diary entries that were found on Kline’s home computer and on several diskettes.

The judge later ruled as inadmissible a number of child pornography images discovered on Kline’s courthouse computer, declaring that they were the “fruit” of an earlier illegal search.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Marshall and resurrected the case against Kline.

Even though Willman intended to help law enforcement, there is no evidence that any police agency knew of the search beforehand, and therefore, Kline’s 4th Amendment right to privacy was not violated, the appellate court said.

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“Searches by private individuals are subject to the 4th Amendment only if the private individual is acting as an instrument or agent of the government at the time of the search,” the panel added.

The U.S. Supreme Court this year declined to hear an appeal brought by Kline’s lawyers.

The high court’s refusal left the defense with little choice but to seek a plea deal or go to trial on the charges.


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