Dozens of private documents belonging to Lancaster County’s leading lawyer – like paperwork similar to nearby Republican Party committees – had been identified on a county governing administration computer network earlier this year, increasing inquiries about irrespective of whether she executed campaign or other outside the house get the job done using taxpayer time or assets.
The files belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who previous year was appointed county solicitor. Pfursich explained she unintentionally transferred the documents onto the county’s laptop or computer network when she applied a own thumb generate in July 2021 to transfer some function-relevant information as she transitioned into her new role as solicitor.
LNP | LancasterOnline obtained copies of the 85 or so information in question. They consist of 55 documents associated to Pfursich’s political operate with the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at minimum 13 data files related to outside the house lawful do the job Pfursich done during years she was serving as clerk of courts, and 11 information that had been private in mother nature, like her children’s report cards. The mother nature of a number of other information — this kind of as a detect for a winter donation generate — is unclear.
At the very same time she served as clerk of courts, Pfursich represented private legal shoppers on the aspect. She’s also been a longtime chief in the community Republican Party, serving as chair of the Hempfield Place Republican Committee considering the fact that 2016.
The clerk of courts is an elected placement. Elected officials like the clerk are permitted to maintain exterior work while serving in office. But Pennsylvania’s General public Officers and Workers Ethics Act bars elected officers from making use of their business office for “personal money acquire.” And the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, which investigates ethics issues, has discovered conducting marketing campaign work and personal do the job with county assets, this kind of as a pc or phone, to qualify as a kind of money gain.
The fee also has to find that the activity was far more than a modest obtain. It found in 2017 that a Beaver County commissioner, Joe Spanik, had violated the Ethics Act by directing his secretary at the county to do campaign do the job for his re-election. She employed county business office tools and time she was on the clock to do it.
The fee calculated she spent about 17 several hours doing the get the job done, valued at a bare minimum of $415, based on her shell out amount. He also employed notary companies from the county valued at $180. Spanik approved an arrangement with the commission to fork out $1,000, most of which went to Beaver County.
The political and individual files belonging to Pfursich had been initially reviewed in community at a June board of commissioners meeting when Ron Harper, Jr., a Rapho Township gentleman, claimed he experienced unearthed proof that Pfursich experienced misused her place of work as clerk of courts. Harper has worked both of those independently and with Pennsylvania Republicans as an opposition researcher and investigator of political officers.
Internally, the existence of personal and political files on the clerk of courts network was 1st documented to human assets director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo created by Pfursich’s successor, Mary Anater. Trescot was notified, Anater stated, mainly because he is her office’s designated chief position of call with the all round county board of commissioners.
Anater explained workers in the workplace have been mindful of the data files but did not instantly inform her to them until eventually quite a few months into her tenure, in March. “When employees concerns ended up last but not least raised with me, I reviewed the documents, decided they have been against county policy” and noted them, she mentioned.
Pfursich reported she was unaware in the course of that period that the information, some which contained private data of legal customers, ended up obtainable in a shared county computer system community.
“In hindsight, I really should have made use of a refreshing, new thumb generate to keep away from any accidental transfer of files,” Pfursich said. “However, I have in no way utilised county personal computers or county means for political functions.”
Pfursich offered LNP | LancasterOnline with an inner memo from the county IT director, Steven Clement, that exhibits he discovered it possible her transfer of individual documents to the county’s network was accidental.
“The data in problem was quickly identifiable as being personal in character, very likely the end result of an accidental thumb push imprint, and not quickly deleted throughout the normal wiping of knowledge on prior employees’ transition from the position,” Clement stated in an April 1 memo to the county’s prime administrator, chief clerk Lawrence George who oversees the county’s several departments, such as IT and human methods.
For each George’s direction, IT team eliminated the documents from the shared push and forwarded them to the chief clerk for storage on a county push tied to his office environment, he advised LNP | LancasterOnline. Storing the files on a hard push prevented everyone with accessibility to the county community drive from accessing them.
But he took no further ways to search even further into the make a difference or refer it to another person else – no matter whether an exterior attorney or other investigative physique – and George explained he did not take into consideration no matter if the existence of the information identified as for additional inquiry.
“The initially objective was to remove all the details that was believed available to another person it must not have been available to, and my original believed wasn’t genuinely, ‘Oh, is that heading to taint any form of investigation that may possibly require to abide by?’” George claimed.
Pfursich’s account of how the documents wound up in the county network and the subsequent response by George and other people raises inquiries about the county’s cybersecurity insurance policies and protocols, as properly as how it handles possible ethics issues involving elected officials.
Pat Christmas, coverage director at the Philadelphia-centered very good govt group Committee of Seventy, claimed it’s unclear, dependent on a description of the scenario, whether the matter has ethics implications or suggests some kind of breakdown in the county’s HR protocols.
If this was only a miscalculation by Pfursich, Xmas explained, county officials may well want to evaluation the onboarding process for county workforce.
“Maybe it demands to be sharpened up to avoid this form of point taking place in the upcoming, probably education about this, as perfectly as for the people who would administer these kinds of a coverage,” he said.
The matter justifies even more inquiry, Christmas stated. The public deserves assurance its elected officials are keeping earlier mentioned board, he said, specifically in an era when religion and have faith in in federal government are at all-time lows.
“Even reasonably slight infractions or prospective violations can dent that belief, so which is why, substantively, and with regard to notion, I believe these difficulties subject,” Christmas mentioned.
George named the situation around Pfursich’s data files “unprecedented.”
“Thankfully, this does not arrive up pretty normally. In point, I’m not informed of any occasion definitely in my profession,” George claimed. But he acknowledged the county ought to have clearer processes for related circumstances.
In an e mail, Trescot, the Democratic commissioner, claimed he would guidance possessing a improved outlined bring about for examining potential ethics issues and creating recommendations for action.
Republican commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, who have political ties to Pfursich and voted for her appointment to solicitor in July 2021 in excess of objections from the Democratic commissioner at the time, Craig Lehman, did not react to the exact same queries.
In advance of staying 1st elected as clerk of courts in 2015, Pfursich labored as assistant county solicitor.
By an open up records ask for, LNP | LancasterOnline acquired a duplicate of Lancaster County’s IT stability plan. Previous updated in June 2021, it does not expressly forbid buyers of the county program from applying outdoors thumb drives or placing county documents on to a personal machine, as Pfursich defined was her intention.
It does say that end users “should shop get the job done paperwork and details on cloud-base storage, alternatively than on device difficult drives or USB storage units, as cloud-centered storage gives much better stability than the solutions.” They also need to guarantee those storage devices are scanned for viruses just before currently being applied.
Other language in the plan seems to exempt elected officers from the policies hired employees have to follow. The policy language expressly states that it applies to “all persons with granted licensed entry,” but an asterisked be aware says elected officers using the system “are dependable for their have steps.”
Trescot claimed the policy regarding elected officers relates to the reality that they are not county employees. “The county federal government does not seek the services of or hearth elected officers,” he mentioned.
Utilizing official methods for campaign function can operate afoul of Pennsylvania’s “theft of services” statute. But a prosecution less than that statute would probably demand evidence of a persistent pattern of employing county means for non-formal company.
George advised LNP | LancasterOnline that his response followed county techniques, but it developed an unintended consequence of dropping file data that could’ve been component of a further inquiry.
Clement, the county IT director, did not reply to a get in touch with or e mail regarding that coverage and regardless of whether deleting the data files from a shared push eradicated the capability to do a deeper forensic assessment of how and when the own data files wound up on the county community.
An lack of ability to review the history of computer system exercise by county officials would show major process deficiencies, claimed Daniel Castro of the Info Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privacy issues.
IT systems have arrive to depend on “audit logs” to overcome viruses and ransomware attacks, Castro claimed. The logs keep monitor of who accessed what file or software and when, and what they did with it, Castro reported.
And to enable users to duplicate or transfer county paperwork to a device outdoors the IT procedure, or at all, was also questionable, Castro explained.
“These are officers for whom chain of custody genuinely issues – for paperwork, who has obtain to issues, you want powerful audit logs. This all just form of suggests bad IT in general and IT security,” Castro mentioned. “That is form of troubling.”
Employees author Carter Walker contributed to this story.
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