June 11, 2009
On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Randal Lee sentenced a woman to one year in prison for posting online the medical records of a person with HIV/AIDS. Rhonda Wong-Fernandez, 22, was also given five years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
In passing sentence, Lee said Wong-Fernandez accessed the records while working at Straub Clinic and Hospital and passed them on to the victim's sister-in-law. Wong-Fernandez pleaded no contest to a felony charge of unauthorized computer access to confidential records.
Court testimony showed Straub officials began an investigation after the victim notified them that her records had been improperly accessed. The woman died earlier this year. Michael Green, an attorney who represents the victim's estate, said the postings, which were uploaded to a MySpace page several times from late 2007 to early 2008, were "vile, hurtful, and disgusting."
Lee declined a request by Wong-Fernandez's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Alan Komogome, that the sentence be delayed for one year to give the defendant time to arrange care for her three children, including a nursing infant. The prosecutor had recommended a 30-day sentence plus probation.
The judge called the act "egregious," saying Wong-Fernandez's sentence should serve as a deterrent to others "that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated." "Young people in this society have to realize that the Internet is not something that can be taken advantage of," he said. "You can't use the Internet to do unlawful conduct."
Clair Tong, a spokesperson for the facility, said, "We take patient confidentiality very seriously. Rhonda Wong-Fernandez is a former employee who was dismissed when we confirmed what she had done."
Green said he plans to file a civil suit against Wong-Fernandez, Straub, and others defendants.