Jurors overwhelmed by tech talk in Childs’ case

One would think the official start of the Terry Childs trial would harbor enough drama to keep a high-tech city on the edge of its seat.

But the relentless barrage of computer jargon that saturated the trial’s opening statements in a San Francisco courtroom Monday had the judge wondering if jurors and court officials could be kept from falling asleep.

Childs, a former network engineer for The City, snagged headlines and shocked the tech world last year after he was accused of hijacking a vital computer network for nearly two weeks and costing The City more than $1 million during the ordeal.

The case became a popular topic with tech blogs and mainstream media alike — partly due to the prospect that just one person could easily upend a major city’s network. The 45-year-old also allegedly installed traps that could have caused a complete system meltdown, prosecutors said.

Childs allegedly commandeered The City’s new multimillion FiberWAN network that he had been tasked with implementing — rigging the system with his own passwords that he refused to give up to his bosses.

The City was shut out of the network that controlled vital services such as payroll, e-mail and some Police Department systems for 12 days, prosecutors said.

There was also high drama surrounding Childs’ eventual revealing of the passcodes to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who personally went to Childs’ jail cell days after the former tech employee was arrested.

But during opening statements Monday, the irresistible — and, of course, alleged — storyline of an employee who abused his power to lash out at abusive managers was subdued by an unavoidable fact: Not all jurors can comprehend the complex terminology and technology involved in a large-scale computer network.

Prosecutor Conrad del Rosario and Richard Shikman, Childs’ attorney, spent the most part of five hours attempting to dissect complex computer language into words and analogies jurors could understand.

The result? Some jurors struggled to keep their eyes open. One even gazed up to the ceiling as if to say, “How much longer can this go on?”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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