Image: Gary Kirchner
Bradley C. Bower  /  AP file
Lancaster County Coroner Gary Kirchner, center, arrives for a court appearance in Columbia, Pa., on Feb. 5, 2007.
updated 9/23/2008 1:51:10 PM ET 2008-09-23T17:51:10

A judge sentenced a former county coroner to probation Tuesday for giving newspaper reporters the password to a restricted 911 Web site.

Dr. Gary Kirchner, who left office at the end of last year, pleaded no contest Tuesday to two misdemeanor counts of obstruction of administration of law. He was sentenced to one year of probation and was fined $500.

Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker said Kirchner's actions could have jeopardized criminal investigations. "This whole scenario does not represent your finest hour," he said.

Kirchner was charged in February 2007 following a state investigation that included a search of six computer hard drives in the newsroom of the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. Five Intelligencer Journal reporters testified before a grand jury after being granted immunity from prosecution.

The newspaper had attributed details in an August 2005 story about a woman's death to the Lancaster County-Wide Communications Web site.

'Wholly inappropriate'
Kirchner's attorney, Kurt Geishauser, said his 74-year-old client does not remember giving his password to any reporters.

However, Jonelle Harter Eshbach, a senior deputy attorney general, told the judge the state could prove that Kirchner gave his password to five Intelligencer Journal reporters. Forensic analysis showed that the reporters used the password "as many as 48 times" to log on to the Web site and were able to access confidential emergency communications information, she said.

"That Web site's secure for a reason, a number of good reasons, and it needs to stay that way," Eshbach said.

Reinaker called the reporters' behavior "wholly inappropriate" and "a total breach of their ethical responsibility."

"While immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony in this case may well have been necessary, it in no way mitigates their complicity in this criminal behavior," the judge said.

Ray Shaw, editor of the Intelligencer Journal, had no immediate response to the criticism.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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