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The fact that criminal charges were dropped against Lawrence Trageser last week came as no surprise to his attorneys.
“It’s been our position all along that there was no basis for Lawrence to be charged, period,” said Attorney Bill Stewart.
Trageser, who is represented by Stewart and Sam Carl, was arrested Oct. 10, 2012, and charged with unlawfully accessing the county’s computer system, a Class D felony. Trageser allegedly obtained county documents by illegally accessing the county’s computer system. Five days later, he was charged with harassment, a Class B misdemeanor. Trageser was accused of harassing Spencer County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Bentley.
The felony charge later was reduced to “attempt to unlawfully access a computer.”
“Along with being arrested twice, they broke down the front door of his house to seize all his property,” Stewart said.
Trageser’s property was returned to him last Wednesday morning.
Rebecca Schroering, assistant county attorney in Jefferson County, was assigned as special prosecutor in the case. Phone calls to Schroering from the Magnet were not returned as of press time.
Stewart said that once Schroering, whom he said had no political interest or “dog in the fight,” was assigned to the case, “the results were exactly as they should have been.”
Stewart said he couldn’t believe his client was arrested for using “a tongue-in-cheek statement about his ‘crack IT team’” and said Trageser’s second arrest was “based on, at best, trumped up charges of harassment.”
Trageser’s website was completely shut down just before the fall election, Stewart said.
“He operates a blog that was relevant considering the election that was going on,” he said. “They tried to burn his building and break his press just prior to the election ... They wanted to shut down one of their critics. I believe he has the same rights as journalists — he was working for a political purpose and a freedom of the press purpose.
“It’s beyond my belief that a thing like this could happen.”
But the court appearances aren’t over for Trageser, who is the subject of two civil suits. The first was filed by Bentley, and the second was filed by Judge-Executive Bill Karrer, County Attorney Ruth Hollan and Sheriff Buddy Stump.
Stewart and Carl filed a counterclaim on Trageser’s behalf against Bentley in Circuit Court.
The countersuit, filed May 1, also names Detective Tony Mattingly and other “unknown” defendants, including employees of the sheriff’s office, the deputies’ supervisors and any co-conspirators involved in the October arrest of Trageser and the subsequent confiscation of property from his home.
Hearings in each of the civil cases are scheduled for July 25 at 10:30 a.m.