November 5, 2005 in City

Computer expert says West files intentional

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Hundreds of “highly offensive” documents and photos on Spokane Mayor Jim West’s City Hall computer could only be there because West deliberately searched a gay Web site, including a members-only section, according to a computer forensics expert.

The affidavit from Josiah P. Roloff of Global CompuSearch LLC was filed Friday in Spokane County Superior Court. Roloff is working with lawyers for The Spokesman-Review. Since May 6, the newspaper has been seeking access to the records on West’s taxpayer-provided computer as part of its investigation into whether he abused his office by offering young gay men public appointments and jobs in exchange for sex.

Roloff’s affidavit contradicts assertions by West’s lawyers and a city attorney that approximately 1,800 photos and documents, many of young gay men, were inadvertently downloaded to West’s computer. In the high-profile public records battle, West is trying to keep the public from seeing some of the files, saying in a sworn affidavit that they contain material that would be “highly offensive” to citizens.

In a response Friday to Roloff’s affidavit, lawyers for West said the mayor has already admitted he visited Gay.com.

The lawyers also asked whether Roloff’s company was the “forensic entity” the newspaper used to identify West’s activities on the gay Web site.

“This raises the issue as to Mr. Roloff’s disinterest and objectivity,” said lawyers Bill Etter, Susan Troppmann and Carl Oreskovich in a written statement.

“This appears to be part of an ongoing effort by The Spokesman-Review to keep the West story alive until the recall election occurs,” West’s lawyers said.

Newspaper attorney Duane Swinton said, “Mr. Roloff did not portray a fictitious character on behalf of the newspaper. Rather, he has technological expertise that establishes that the mayor’s access to Gay.com was intentional and voluntary.”

After hearing oral arguments on Oct. 12, Adams County Superior Court Judge Richard Miller is expected to rule later this month whether West’s computer files should be released. Spokane County judges recused themselves from the case, which began Aug. 24 when West’s lawyers filed papers seeking to block release of the files. Attorneys for the newspaper intervened, saying the files are public records.

Assistant City Attorney Milton Rowland has told the court that his office was prepared to release the material on West’s computer after it was seized in May

On Thursday, Judge Miller came to Spokane to talk with Garvin Brakel, the city’s management information systems director, said Tracy LeRoy, an attorney for The Spokesman-Review. All the parties, including West’s lawyers, are under court order not to discuss what was said at the meeting.

Roloff based his affidavit on his familiarity from other computer forensic cases with Gay.com, the source of many of the disputed files on West’s computer.

“I am familiar with the site’s operation, including how images are viewed on Gay.com and whether pop-ups occur when a computer user views personal profiles and the images associated with those profiles,” Roloff said in his affidavit.

An index of West’s computer files provided to the newspaper includes a history file showing 56 visits to the Gay.com site, Roloff said.

“The history file shows heavy usage and visits to the Gay.com site by the computer user. In fact, the history file demonstrates that some of the visits to the Gay.com site were within a member area requiring the user to enter a user name and password,” Roloff’s affidavit said.

The Gay.com site requires that personal profiles be “consciously selected” by the computer user, Roloff said. “The Gay.com site will not display personal profiles and the images included on the profiles absent the computer user’s affirmative choice to view a certain profile,” according to the affidavit.

Roloff disputes the conclusions in a Sept. 22, 2005, letter from Rowland to Spokesman-Review attorney Swinton about how the images got on West’s city computer. In that letter, Rowland said he’d discussed West’s computer with Brakel, the city’s information systems director. Brakel said the documents “were almost certainly placed on Mayor West’s computer without his knowledge, and likely without his having even visited all the Web pages represented,” Rowland said.

That’s not accurate, Roloff said in his affidavit.

“The suggestion contained in the letter that these images could have inadvertently appeared on the mayor’s computer or were not viewed by him is erroneous, given the way the Gay.com site operates,” Roloff said. If images from Gay.com are contained in West’s Internet cache file, this means the computer user “affirmatively viewed the images by clicking on profiles displayed by Gay.com,” he said. “These images were affirmatively accessed by the computer user voluntarily, though the computer user did not intend to save the images,” Roloff concluded.

West attorney Troppmann has told Judge Miller that West didn’t deliberately download material from gay Web sites to his city computer.

“These are Internet cache files – information on your computer you don’t put there,” Troppmann said at the Oct. 12 hearing in Ritzville. “There are hundreds of people’s identities at stake here … some of them are local.”

Cached files from a wide range of Web sites can be routinely downloaded when anyone uses the Internet, said Eric Blank, an attorney and computer forensics expert at Blank Law & Technology P.S. in Seattle, who is not involved in the legal battle over West’s computer files. But what is important is the frequency and the pattern of the downloaded files, Blank said.

“Hundreds of images mean you are visiting that site deliberately,” Blank said.

“It is wrong to say the contents of a temporary cache were all placed there inadvertently,” he added. Some files in a temporary cache, including spam, pop-ups or even the misspelling of a computer address, can arrive inadvertently to a computer – but many others arrive there as a result of deliberate computer use, he said.

“The truth is, it’s going to be a mixture of the two,” Blank said.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email