- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A federal judge has recused herself from a case involving hacktivist group Anonymous by virtue of indirectly being one of its former victims.

Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris was slated to presume over the arraignment of accused hospital hacker Martin Gottesfeld on Wednesday in Boston, but announced she had stepped down in a three-sentence explanation filed in court the day before.

“Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 455(a), I recuse myself. In 2013, the United States Sentencing Commission’s website was attacked by a group calling itself Anonymous. As chair of that Commission, I conclude that my impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” she wrote Tuesday.

Activist hackers aligned with Anonymous took credit for compromising the U.S. Sentencing Commission website in January 2013 following the death of Aaron Swartz, a computer prodigy who committed suicide days earlier while awaiting trial for hacking charges of his own.

Swartz, 26, faced decades in federal prison after being charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston with crimes related to downloading of millions of academic journal articles. In the wake of his suicide, individuals claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous, the loose-knit hacktivist movement, defaced the Sentencing Commission’s website as well as that of the Department of Justice and others.

“This website was chosen due to the symbolic nature of its purpose — the federal sentencing guidelines which enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers — the federal sentencing guidelines which are in clear violation of the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments,” hackers wrote on the Sentencing Commission website.

“Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.”

Mr. Gottesfeld, 32, faces two counts of felony computer hacking stemming from an unrelated Anonymous campaign waged in 2014. He’s accused of participating in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that disrupted computers at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, a treatment facility in nearby Framingham, conducted during the course of a digital protest aimed at “the troubled teen industry” — institutions he perceived to be involved in the the treatment of children and teens with emotional, psychological and medical problems.

Mr. Gottesfeld was arrested in February and held at a detention center in Rhode Island for eight months before being formally indicted last week. In between, he began a hunger strike with the intent of raising awareness about the troubled teen industry targeted by Anonymous, as well as the prosecutorial record of Carmen Ortiz — the U.S. attorney whose office pursued the case against Swartz years before her office filed charges against himself over the 2014 hospital attacks.

“I call on the Justice Department to reign in this prosecutor run [amok] while I continue the fourth week of my hunger strike,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Mr. Gottesfeld coordinated and conducted DDoS attacks against Children’s and Wayside that knocked their websites offline and resulted in more than $600,000 in losses and damages, but didn’t compromise any critical systems or patient records. His case was reassigned Tuesday to Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV, according to court records.

Writing for The Huffington Post last month, Mr. Gottesfeld admitted plotting the attacks to retaliate for the alleged mistreatment suffered by a 15-year-old patient, Justina Pelletier.

“Justina wasn’t defenseless. Under the banner of Anonymous, she and other institutionalized children could and would be protected,” he wrote in an editorial titled “Why I Knocked Boston Children’s Hospital Off The Internet.”

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