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Former OC staffer arrested in email hacking case

City of Gresham fires Burch one day after his arraignment
by:  Jim Burch

What started as a civil case between two employees of Oregon City led to the Friday, Aug. 5, arrest and Tuesday, Aug. 9, firing of city of Gresham employee Jim Burch.

Clackamas County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Burch, 45, at his home on Alder Creek Lane in Mulino at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 5, in connection to an April 19 report by Oregon City public works employee Janet Holmgren that her former supervisor was hacking into her email account.

Gresham city officials placed Burch - whom the city hired in November 2010 as its new city transportation supervisor - on administrative leave effective Monday, Aug. 8, said Laura Shepard, city spokeswoman.

While receiving a $71,280 annual salary while at Gresham, Burch was on probation, so Shepherd said the city could fire him at will on Aug. 9. The city has a long-standing policy not to comment further on personnel matters, Shepard said.

Holmgren filed a federal lawsuit against Burch and Oregon City in April 2010 because she claimed Burch sexually harassed her and hacked into her personal email account to get an unfair advantage in the case by viewing her attorney correspondence. A federal judge granted her a temporary restraining order and mandated that Oregon City turn over computers that Burch had access to, both at home and at the city offices.

In September 2010, Burch left his job with Oregon City, and the defendants settled out of court for about $120,000.

Subsequent investigation uncovered evidence for a total of 154 counts

of alleged unauthorized computer access, 154 counts of intercepting communication and 92 counts of official misconduct, said Sgt. James Rhodes, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

All of the alleged crimes are class A misdemeanors, punishable by $6,250 in fines and up to a year in jail for each count.

At the arraignment on Monday, Aug. 8, Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Eve L. Miller dropped bail that was originally set at $40,000, releasing Burch on his own recognizance and stipulating that he have no contact with Holmgren.

Burch's attorney Tom Ifversen entered a not-guilty plea, and Burch is scheduled to return to court for case management at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Shepard said Gresham human resources officials were not aware of Holmgren's original sexual harassment allegations against Burch, a complaint filed against Burch with the state Bureau of Labor and Industry or the federal lawsuit against Burch.

'At the time we hired him no criminal charges had been filed,' she said. 'And, frankly, the city of Oregon City gave him a good reference. So there were no real indicators of what was there.'

The city does not conduct Google searches on prospective employees or check their Facebook pages or other social media sites as part of the hiring process, she said.

'I don't think that is part of the formal background check,' Shepard said.

(Gresham Outlook reporter Mara Stine contributed to this story.)