Family Court tightens procedures after breach of sensitive juvenile case files.
March 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
Family Court tightens procedures after breach of sensitive juvenile case files
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
A security breach of sensitive information from sealed juvenile delinquent cases at Family Court has left administrators scrambling to notify the people involved and tighten procedures for dealing with those kinds of cases.
The breach occurred in late January when a Family Court contractor, Linda Martinez-Webb, lost a USB flash drive holding 100 confidential juvenile case files, many involving allegations of sex crimes or abuse, said Steve Grierson, who oversees District Court and Family Court.
Martinez-Webb, a retired longtime Family Court clerk, was hired in January to redact the names and personal identification information of juveniles and other people connected to the cases and then copy the cases onto flash drives for a researcher studying recidivism for the court, Grierson said.
Roughly 50 cases on the missing thumb drive had not been redacted, Grierson said.
Martinez-Webb, who retired as a supervisor in the clerk’s office, told court officials that she didn’t know how she lost the flash drive and felt terrible about what had happened. She insisted that she only worked on the case files on Family Court computers.
On Feb. 12, a man Grierson called a good Samaritan informed the district attorney’s office that he had found the drive at a Walgreen’s drug store and turned it in to authorities.
Court officials didn’t learn until after the flash drive was found that it had been taken out of the courthouse at 600 N. Pecos Rd.
Officials terminated their contract with Martinez-Webb shortly after she reported the drive missing. She was being paid up to $10,000 under the contract to redact and copy 1,000 cases for the study, but had only gotten to 200 cases.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lalli said the man who found the flash drive told the prosecutors that it contained information on juvenile sex offenders, and he asked for a reward.
The man was told there was no reward and that he should give the flash drive to Henderson police, Lalli said.
Eventually, the drive wound up at the district attorney’s juvenile division, where it remains today under lock and key.
Brigid Duffy, who runs the juvenile division, looked at the thumb drive and recognized that the cases were part of the recidivism study and informed Family Court Judge William Voy, who is overseeing the study. Then, Lalli broke the news to Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti.
Grierson said he was “surprised” and “upset” when he first learned about the breach.
It is the first time something like this has occurred at Family Court, and he stressed that sealed records are safely maintained by the court.
“This is a human error,” he said. “It’s not somebody tunneling into our network through a firewall.”
Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti added: “We have no reason to believe it was anything more than an accidental loss of information, but this should not have been out of the building.”
Court officials have since assigned administrative staff to finish purging the juvenile files of names for the study, and Grierson said he’s working on a written policy to deal with handling future research and sensitive Family Court files.
By state law, court officials have to notify anyone whose identity could have been compromised by the breach in a timely manner.
The notifications, however, can’t be done if they interfere with a criminal investigation.
The district attorney’s office isn’t conducting a criminal investigation into the breach, but Grierson said he wants Las Vegas police to look at the case, interview the man who found the flash drive, and wrap up any loose ends before officials make notifications.
Officials were trying to determine whether anyone other than the good Samaritan saw the files.
Both Grierson and Lalli declined to identify the man.