Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Ex-Judge Ronald C. Kline Faces Prison Term After Guilty Plea to Child Pornography Charges
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A former Orange Superior Court judge who kept sexually explicit pictures of young boys on his home computer faces a possible prison term after pleading guilty to four counts of having child pornography.
Ronald C. Kline, a Superior Court judge from 1995 to 2003, entered his plea Monday in federal court in Los Angeles. Three other counts of child pornography were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
As part of the agreement, Kline acknowledged that the Sentencing Guidelines call for a term of 27 to 33 months in federal prison, but that is not binding on Senior U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall, who will impose sentence March 27. Kline faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.
“We are pleased that he accepted responsibly after four years of litigation,” said Deirdre Eliot, assistant U.S. attorney.
Kline’s defense lawyer, Paul Meyer, said his client fully acknowledges his wrongdoing. He noted that the former judge has been on home confinement for four years and must forfeit state contributions to his pension as a result of the plea agreement.
“In many ways, he has already been punished for his conduct,” Meyer said in a statement. “He looks forward to the day when he can once again return to a meaningful and productive life.”
Kline, 65, of Irvine will be required to register as a sex offender once he is released from prison. Asked if authorities worried that Kline might pose a risk after prison, Eliot said “we have some concerns given the writings in his diary.”
Prosecutors have said Kline’s diary contained accounts of him following children in shopping malls and being attracted to boys when he worked as a volunteer baseball umpire.
Kline was originally charged with seven counts of possessing child pornography after a Canadian hacker used a computer program to download diary entries and other images from Kline’s computers. The hacked information was turned over to Pedowatch, a Colorado watchdog group, which notified Irvine police.
In 2003, Marshall ruled that the hacker, Bradley Willman of British Columbia, was working as a government agent when he hacked Kline’s computer, and suppressed the prosecution’s evidence because there was no search warrant.
But a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, while agreeing that the search was illegal, said it was “private” and thus did not implicate the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule.
Willman had attached a “Trojan Horse” virus to pornographic images of children on the Internet. The virus, which is downloaded onto an individual’s computer when that individual downloads an image to which the virus is attached, enabled Willman to open, alter, and download files on the infected computer.
The Ninth Circuit panel, made up of Senior Judge David Thompson and Judges Barry Silverman and Kim M. Wardlaw, agreed that Willman acted with the intent to aid law enforcement. But that wasn’t enough to make him an agent of the government himself, the appellate judges said.
“A private person cannot act unilaterally as an agent or instrument of the state; there must be some degree of governmental knowledge and acquiescence. In the absence of such official involvement, a search is not governmental,” the panel said.
The judges distinguished an earlier case in which the Ninth Circuit held that a search by a person who regularly acted as a Drug Enforcement Agency informant and “had made it a practice to conduct illegal searches” of which the agency was aware violated the Fourth Amendment, even though the challenged search was conducted on the informant’s own initiative and without the DEA’s participation.
Willman, on the other hand, used the computer virus to obtain evidence from Kline’s computer before he contacted the Irvine Police Department, the panel explained. Marshall, the judges said, erred in considering Willman’s later contacts with police, in Irvine and elsewhere, as evidence that he was acting as an agent in conducting the search.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Ninth Circuit ruling.
Kline is a former partner in the law firm of Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, where he was managing partner before then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the bench in 1995. He is a graduate of Rice University in Houston, obtained his law degree at the University of Texas, and practiced in Houston before coming to California in the 1970s.
The criminal charges resulted in the demise of his career. He was arrested after the filing deadline for the 2002 primary, but 11 write-in candidates filed to oppose him and he came in second in the voting.
He later obtained a court ruling permitting him to withdraw from the general election. Kline wanted to get off the ballot, Meyer explained at the time, because the publicity that the inevitable constant airing of the allegations during an election campaign would hurt his client’s bid for a fair trial.
Kline’s career officially ended in January 2003 when his term expired. But he had been off the bench for months as a result of being under home confinement.
Kline was also charged in Orange Superior Court with molesting a former neighbor when the accuser was 14 years old in 1979. The man came forward after learning about the child pornography arrest.
The charges were dropped after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s law allowing revival of time-barred child molestation charges under certain circumstances.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company