Coroner Faces Trial for Revealing Government Password to Reporter

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An elected coroner has been ordered to stand trial after a newspaper reporter testified that the coroner, trying to keep reporters from calling him, gave her the password to a confidential government Web site.

Lancaster County Coroner G. Gary Kirchner is charged with unlawful use of a computer and criminal conspiracy.

Access to the Web site, which contained emergency communications information, was restricted to law enforcement and other authorized officials.

At a hearing Monday, former Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reporter Carrie Cassidy testified that Kirchner gave her the password in early 2004 so reporters could get information directly from the Web site and stop calling him.

Kirchner’s attorney, Emmanual H. Dimitriou, had argued that the case should not go forward on the basis of Cassidy’s testimony because the grand jury that investigated the case considered her to be not credible.

The prosecutor, Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle H. Eshbach, told reporters the grand jury found Cassidy’s testimony not credible on only one point.

The security breach became evident after a story about a woman’s death appeared in the Intelligencer Journal on Aug. 22, 2005, attributing details to the Lancaster County-Wide Communications Web site.

Prosecutors have said five of the paper’s reporters appeared before the grand jury after being granted immunity from prosecution.

The newspaper has said the reporters had never agreed or been asked to keep the source of the password confidential. Investigators searched six computer hard drives in the newsroom.

Kirchner, 73, a physician, has been coroner for the past three years. If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as 14 years in prison and be fined $30,000, prosecutors have said.

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