Public defender who criticized St. Paul crime lab sues over data privacy breach
- Article by: Nicole Norfleet
- Star Tribune
- November 6, 2013 - 9:43 AM
A Dakota County public defender whose scrutiny of the St. Paul police crime lab led to the unit’s overhaul has sued several cities and counties saying public safety employees illegally accessed her driver’s license information.
In a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Lauri Traub accused unidentified members of the police departments and sheriff’s offices in St. Paul, Farmington, St. Paul Park, Hastings, Burnsville, Aitkin County, Dakota County and Sherburne County of obtaining personal information from her motor vehicle record about a dozen times since June 2010.
The alleged infractions started almost two years before Traub and former public defender Christine Funk questioned the reliability of drug test results in several Dakota County cases.
Traub and Funk criticized the lab’s credibility, resulting in the suspension of drug testing at the lab, reviews of past cases where lab tested evidence was used and audits that found widespread failings in staff skills, poorly maintained testing instruments and illegible lab reports. The lab has since been upgraded.
The records breach allegedly started the same year Traub was involved in the defense of Tylar Hokanson, who was accused of severely shaking his 17-month-old stepson, causing him to die several days later. Hokanson was convicted of first-degree murder with a past pattern of child abuse and second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
“She doesn’t get to choose the clients she represents,” said Jennifer Congdon, one of Traub’s attorneys. Congdon added later, “It’s incredibly important that her privacy is maintained.”
Traub was one of 5,000 people who received a letter earlier this year that said her data had been breached by a former administrative manager at the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who allegedly accessed driver’s license records 19,000 times. In September, a federal judge dismissed a series of class-action claims against the state related to the case. The five lawsuits, which were consolidated, targeted the DNR and the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the driver and vehicle services database.
The ruling didn’t affect the more than 20 lawsuits that have been filed against local governments across Minnesota regarding breaches of driver’s license data.
In Traub’s case, her lawyers are holding the municipalities liable for their employees. The damages that are being sought would be determined at trial, the complaint said.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495
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