- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Department of Public Safety employee has been fired for improperly accessing the criminal records of her two daughters, according to a recent ruling denying her unemployment benefits.

Kathleen Sohn was fired Dec. 5 after the Division of Criminal Investigation learned that someone using her name and password had used a law enforcement database to access the records of her daughters on May 15, according to last week’s ruling from Administrative Law Judge Bonny Hendricksmeyer.

Sohn flatly denied accessing those records during a disciplinary interview in November, but she couldn’t explain how her name and password could have been used, the ruling said. At an appeal hearing for unemployment benefits last week, Sohn said she could not remember accessing the records - an explanation that Hendricksmeyer said was not convincing.

Hendricksmeyer concluded that Sohn, an information technology support worker who had been with DPS for two years, did access the records and violated a policy that bars employees from handling criminal records relating to their relatives. Because her actions amounted to workplace misconduct, Sohn is ineligible for unemployment benefits, she found.

Following the policy is important to protect the department against allegations of improperly altering or leaking sensitive information, although there is no indication either happened in this case, she wrote.

“The public must have confidence in the accuracy of public records,” she wrote. “The claimant’s conduct was a violation of the duties and responsibilities the employer has the right to expect of an employee and of the right of the public to trust employees who deal with such records.”

Sohn, 53, was placed on administrative leave in September after the potential misuse of the Iowa Criminal Justice Information System was discovered. As is typical, DCI launched a criminal investigation because improperly accessing records could be a crime.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said in October that he would not file criminal charges because prosecutors in his office found no criminal intent. Much of the information that was accessed would have been available through public sources, such as Iowa’s online courts database, he said at the time.

A listed phone number for Sohn in Des Moines rang busy Tuesday and Wednesday.