CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — In a preview of what’s to come in the criminal trial of former Ocean City High School Athletic Director Christine Lentz, the defense and prosecution spent Monday sparring over technical details of the evidence and the role of key witnesses.
“We’ve got some work ahead of us,” said Judge John C. Porto after hearing arguments over several pretrial motions by defense attorney Brian Pelloni and Cape May County Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hoerner to suppress evidence and bar testimony in the case.
Porto said he would render decisions on most of the motions Tuesday, after jury selection.
Lentz, 54, of Upper Township, is accused of hacking into the superintendent’s email to get information about ongoing contract negotiations. She was indicted in early 2016 on charges of official misconduct, computer criminal mischief and theft.
Lentz, who also served as vice principal at the high school, resigned July 1, 2015.
The crux of the case is focused on using IP, or internet protocol, addresses to determine the location where a certain computer accessed the superintendent’s email. According to Hoerner’s statements, the state is attempting to prove with the IP addresses Lentz was at the Greenview Inn in Vineland when she accessed Taylor’s email April 1, 2015. The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office also will have to show Lentz was the only person at that location that could have committed the crime.
The trial was postponed from earlier this month and set to begin this week, but it will likely take another week to resolve several pretrial issues, Porto said after a nearly eight-hour day of arguments.
Pelloni argued intensely against the use of IP addresses as Lentz sat quietly next to him. He also made a motion to bar Detective Joshua Coleman, of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, to serve as an expert witness regarding the use of IP addresses in the case.
The state requested to bar the defense’s expert testimony and to suppress references to a July 2, 2015, email between a Microsoft technical lead for investigations and DFDR, a private investigator hired by the Ocean City Board of Education in 2015.
The board hired DFDR to investigate the alleged unauthorized access of Taylor’s emails after suspicions over the scope of Lentz’s knowledge of contract negotiations.
According to Hoerner, DFDR requested the IP data log from Microsoft, which provided the information requested. She said after Lentz was charged, Pelloni subpoenaed that same information from Microsoft and with it, was sent a log of emails between the technical lead from Microsoft and DFDR. In those emails, she said, the technical lead states on July 2 that he would provide the data but that it was of “limited value.” Pelloni said the email stated the IP address was not an indicator of where the computer was located.
Hoerner argued that the email was inadmissible as evidence because there was no way to verify the statement made by the technical lead as the defense did not call him as a witness. Pelloni said that the information contained in the email is relevant because it is a disclaimer to the information Microsoft provided to DFDR.
“If that’s not relevant to DFDR’s opinion or the state’s intention to use that evidence, I don’t know what is,” Pelloni said.(tncms-asset)d6db3292-bc2a-5171-bb27-b010fe8c64f4(/tncms-asset)
Hoerner had a Microsoft records custodian, Yana Rosenbloom, testify via Skype to the authenticity of the IP address records, that they came from Microsoft and how they are collected. Pelloni argued that even if they came from Microsoft, that doesn’t prove they are a reliable source to track location. He called some of Hoerner’s witness testimony “a red herring” to distract from the heart of his argument.
One of the potential witnesses in the case will be Ocean City Primary School teacher and former director of curriculum Mikenzie Helphenstine, who stepped down from her administrative position in July 2015, shortly after Lentz’s resignation and before official charges were brought against Lentz.
Pelloni requested immunity for Helphenstine if she agreed to testify, but Hoerner said there is a possibility of obstruction of justice and refused to comply.
The pre-trial motions and jury selection will continue on Tuesday.
Official misconduct, a second-degree crime, can carry a five- to 10-year prison term. Computer criminal mischief can carry a three- to five-year sentence.