JOLIET, ILLINOIS – Associate Judge Joseph Polito was trusted with one of Will County’s most notorious heater cases in 2007 when he presided over Plainfield man Craig Stebic’s attempt to divorce his missing wife Lisa.
Now he’s at the center of an unsolved riddle of his own.
Someone using Judge Polito’s computer login and password at the Joliet courthouse has been trying to use county computers to view hardcore Internet pornography, documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Polito won’t say if it’s him — but Chief Judge Gerald R. Kinney has apologized “for any embarrassment this incident has caused.” And he’s referred the case to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, which has the power to file disciplinary charges that could result in Polito being suspended or even fired.
Among the 243 porn websites somebody using Polito’s county computer account attempted to access are chubbyparade.com, hugeheavybreasts.com, bigbras-club.com, portofdebauchery.com and teenagesextape.com.
Many of the websites have names that can’t be printed in a family newspaper. Several suggest an interest in masturbation and large breasted women. Others cover specialty interests including office sex and older women.
The list of porn websites was logged by Web-filtering software designed to stop county employees from wasting taxpayer time on non-work-related websites.
Tens of thousands of attempts to visit inappropriate websites — typically social networking, chat and shopping sites — are automatically blocked and logged in Will County government every month by the software, which is similar to software used in workplaces across the U.S.
But it wasn’t until the Sun-Times used the Freedom of Information Act to request a copy of the log in May last year that officials say they launched an investigation into the unusual activity on Polito’s computer account.
Chief Judge Kinney insisted for months that documents identifying Polito as the likeliest prolific courthouse porn user were judicial records that the public had no right to see. He finally released them earlier this month, after the Illinois Attorney General’s office wrote in a legal opinion that the list of porn websites was “unrelated to any judicial function [and] is not a judicial record.”
The list covers a six-month period beginning in late 2010. It shows that someone using Polito’s county computer account attempted to view porn on five days in January and April last year.
Polito, who was appointed an associate judge in 2006 and has a computer on the bench of his third-floor courtroom, was assigned as a “floating judge” at the time, records show. He handled traffic, small claims and forfeiture hearings on the days his account was used to try to view porn.
Now assigned to divorce cases, he refused to speak to a Sun-Times reporter about his workplace Internet habits last week. A bailiff who polices Polito’s courtroom said the judge “is not available” for comment.
But a defendant in a small claims case who appeared before Polito on Jan. 4 last year said it would be a “disgrace” if it turns out the judge was looking at porn during court hours.
Andrew Coleman, 53, believes he was treated “unfairly” in several rulings by Polito. His opponent in court was a “young woman in a tight leotard” and Polito “sat there and smiled at everything she said and ignored everything we said,” Coleman said, adding, “Maybe that’s where his mind was — he didn’t seem focused on the facts.”
Judge Kinney disagrees that the alleged porn use had any effect on Polito’s work. The chief judge said there was “no evidence that there’s been any impact on [Polito’s] ability to serve the community as a member of the judiciary.”
In a vaguely worded statement he released with the other Will County Circuit Court Judges, Kinney added that “appropriate steps have been taken to address any underlying issues that led to this behavior.”
He said a probation officer whose account was also used to view porn is no longer employed by Will County but declined to discuss specifics of Polito’s case, saying the matter was a “confidential personnel issue.”
Whoever used Polito’s account was likely frustrated.
Though he or she tried to visit 69 inappropriate websites on April 27 alone, none of those nor any of the other 164 attempts to view porn logged by the filtering software was successful, according to Will County Information, Communications and Technology director Mike Shay.
The software works by blocking websites on a banned list, Shay said. The list of banned sites is updated daily, but the vast amount of pornography published online means it isn’t foolproof, Shay added, making the system vulnerable to a determined and persistent porn hunter.
“Sometimes someone will get through,” he said.
Whether they’re a judge or an office clerk, anyone who uses a computer at work should assume they’re leaving a digital trail that can be tracked by their bosses, according to Daniel Keller, president of Interim HR Consulting.
If you’re at work using a computer and Internet connection supplied by your employer, “There shouldn’t be any expectation of privacy,” he said.
Keller routinely advises clients to install porn-blocking software but said that the biggest problem facing employers is workers using social media during work hours.
“Back in 2007 or 2008, most of the terminations for inappropriate Internet use were related to pornography,” he said. “Now it’s nearly all Facebook and Twitter.”
Whatever you’re looking at, Keller cautioned, “there are tracking mechanisms that go back to the individual user.”