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The Julie Group shares a professional interest in the area of digital and emerging technology and law. As professionals there is a rich and deep appreciation for the differences of opinion that can appear in this space. You must never assume that opinion, where it is introduced is universally shared and endorsed by all our volunteers. Nor are they necessarily the very best snapshot of a given issue.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Julie Amero: Unjust Justice

The felony charges against Julie Amero have been dropped. Instead of facing prison, she was allowed to surrender her teaching license, pay a $100 fine, and plead to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

I am thrilled that Julie Amero has no more charges hanging over her head. And she is thrilled, too. But you should know that no justice was done here. None whatsoever.

Justice would have been full exoneration with a deep, heartfelt apology from the prosecutor for not fully investigating the possibility that malware had infected the computer in the classroom where she was substituting.

Justice would have been a public statement from the prosecutor and Mark Lounsbury, the so-called police forensic "expert" who gave false testimony in her trial.

Justice would have been a proper investigation at the outset before she lost her baby, her reputation, her job, and ultimately, her good health.

Justice would have been placing the responsibility for the whole debacle at the feet of the school network administrator who did not have a full version of anti-virus or anti-spyware software installed, had almost no security policies in place, and hadn't updated the virus definitions on what was on the computer for over three months.

Justice would be seeing the jerks who create malware thrown in jail with the key thrown out, forced to watch the same pornographic images they fed to unwitting PC owners over, and over, and over again, while handcuffed behind their back.

Julie Amero was hospitalized last week for symptoms relating to stress and a possible heart condition. Just four short years ago she was looking forward to the birth of her child and a life with her husband in a community she loved. She enjoyed substitute teaching, loves kids, was well-liked by the students in the school where she taught, and had prospects for a nice, quiet, drama-free life.

One day substituting in a classroom with a badly-infected computer changed her life, her future, and her career.

I went ballistic when I read this a few minutes ago:

But since that dramatic reversal, local officials, police and state prosecutors were unwilling to admit that a mistake may have been made -- even after computer experts from around the country demonstrated that Amero's computer had been infected by "spyware."

New London County State's Attorney Michael Regan told me late Friday the state remained convinced Amero was guilty and was prepared to again go to trial.

"I have no regrets. Things took a course that was unplanned. Unfortunately the computer wasn't examined properly by the Norwich police," Regan said.

"For some reason this case caught the media's attention,'' Regan said.

So that we're clear, it didn't catch the media's attention "for some reason". It caught the media's attention and the attention of forensic experts across the country because they all KNEW that typical behavior of a PC infected with malware is exactly what happened to Julie Amero in that classroom on that day. They were utterly appalled when she was convicted on those four counts of endangering the morals of a minor.

They saw unjust justice.

They saw Mark Lounsbury flat-out give testimony to falsehood. I am not saying that Lounsbury testified that way out of malice. I do, however, think he was untrained, had very little knowledge of viruses and spyware, and a full-blown ego that didn't allow for the possibility he was wrong.

They saw an investigation with very little process or integrity.

They saw Julie. And they knew this was not a woman who would walk into a classroom, boot up a computer, and start surfing porn sites in the middle of class.

They saw the truth. And when they saw it, they knew they couldn't sit idly by and watch an innocent person go to jail when the truth had not been told.

Experts, lawyers, and loudmouthed bloggers like me said "Not this time." They stepped up, they gave their time and expertise for free, and the loudmouthed bloggers started doing what we do best -- blogging it. Telling the truth. Telling those who want the real story to come over here and read about what really happened.

It is unfortunate that politics, or ego, or self-righteous certitude prevents Mr. Regan from understanding what everyone who has ever had a PC without the proper virus protection knows: Without proper anti-virus and spyware protection, your computer and maybe even your life is at risk.

Regan's pronouncement of his certainty of her guilt speaks to his ignorance and unwillingness to learn the facts of this case, and the facts of what PC viruses can do to a computer and in some cases, a life.

Julie Amero should have her teaching certificate back. She should have her hundred dollars back. She should be compensated for malicious prosecution. She should have her child in her arms.

She should. But she doesn't. Because a prosecutor thinks he knows it all, and has listened to a cop with enough information to be dangerous but no facts with which to be right.

Julie deserves better. But she accepts gratefully what she got. I only wish I could do the same.

More information and posts about Julie's case can be found here.


Antonio Malcolm said...

"had very little knowledge of viruses and spyware, and a full-blown ego that didn't allow for the possibility he was wrong"

Isn't this true for most IT workers these days? I say that with cynicism, because I work in IT, have been a sysadmin before, and hate the egos.

It's really sad. Normally, the 'Nick Burns' mentality does little more than ruin a day. This time, it ruined a life. Maybe he should face legal action if Julie is ever exonerated. This has sort of gone beyond injustice and into the realm of victimization.

Anonymous said...

what a nightmare!
The Prosecutor should be "schooled" about what can happen with today's malware. Maybe he'd be able to explain it if some porn popped up on HIS computer during trial?

dkahn400 said...

Having watched this case from the UK for the last couple of years I have found it hard to understand why it wasn't simply tossed out by the judge when the prosecution failed to abandon it. It has been a grotesque mockery of justice.

Julie, I understand why you accepted a guilty plea to the trivial charge. You had no choice, and any rational person would have done likewise. Outside the strange bubble that Connecticut appears to be the world knows you are innocent and wishes you well.

Anonymous said...

as a partner in an ISP business for nearly 10 years, shipping Gigs of data per minute, it is ridiculously obvious what caused the pop-ups. I envision Connecticut a well-educated populus, if there isnt a congressional campaign regarding this cause, I was wrong. Regan is a complete and utter baffoon for not running a SIMPLE SCAN of the computer. What an idiot. He would be less of an idiot if he would just admit they made a mistake, but we live in an age where no one is accountable for their actions. disgusting. give her her license back.

Anonymous said...

I just read about this story in ARS Technica and linked to this site and was dismayed to know that there was such widespread stupidity in government. I just wanted to say great job to all of you who helped out this woman the way you did. What a horrible simple-minded government/officials New London appapently has...I'm going to do a history search on them tonight to see if they burned any "witches" in the day. Talk about a bunch of arrogant stone throwing boneheads. I would like to see this go to the federal courts, Julie to get exonerated and turn around and bring a civil suit against those simpletons for wrongful prosecution, loss of her child, deterioration of health and/or whatever else she can stack on.

Anonymous said...

The authorities in this case appeared to know just enough about computer security to be very dangerous. Especially true in the case of Mrs. Amero.

Worse still is the smugness of the prosecutor who is blaming the outcome on poor investigation. Yes, there was poor investigation by the police. It was due to the ignorance and/or incompetence of the "computer experts" starting with the school admin on up.

James said...

What is the phrase, "beware of stupid people in large numbers..."

The scary thing is that local officials, police and state prosecutors like those Ms Amero's case are not confined to her locality or state. Combine well-meaning prosecutorial attitude, ego, ignorance and power and you have a very dangerous situation from which no one can escape being unjustly tarred by the same self-righteous, unwilling to admit mistakes brush.

I'm glad that the collective voices of reason prevailed at least enough to reduce her charges, but outraged that she was not completely exonerated.

Wayfarer said...

So what happens in that school come the next spyware infection? Because they're clearly not up to speed on such things. And my own experience in the (UK) education sector would suggest that even after this debacle they're not likely to improve.

Anonymous said...

Go get 'em, boss. As the saying goes, "The only thing evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing".

Anonymous said...

It is scarry that someone so ignorant of the facts can have so much power to destroy peoples lives. She should sue the school district for not having a properly maintained security policy in place that let the computer get in that condition in the first place. She should appeal the decision as well.


Marc said...

"I am not saying that Lounsbury testified that way out of malice. I do, however, think he was untrained, had very little knowledge of viruses and spyware, and a full-blown ego that didn't allow for the possibility he was wrong."

Yes indeed, as Hanlon's Razor states, "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

Unfortunately, stupidity (with power) is still enough to cause a lot of injustice and suffering in the world.

Thank you for your efforts, even if the injustice in this case was not undone. Hopefully future cases elsewhere will turn out differently due to the publicity.

Art said...

A terrible case of injustice. I hope there is an appeal process and experts like yourselves are available to support Ms Amero. Meanwhile, Mr Regan and Lounsbury need to take some basic computer courses. Some courses in basic law would help also. Art