Newsom testifies in computer-hijacking trial 

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom testified today in the trial of a man accused of hijacking the city's computer system in 2008, telling jurors how he visited the defendant in jail to compel him to give up a secret password.

Newsom said that when he met with defendant Terry Childs in jail on July 21, 2008, "I had a singular purpose, and that was to walk out with the password."

Childs, 45, a former lead engineer for the city's main computer system, has been on trial before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson since December on a charge of computer tampering. He is accused of locking the city out of its FiberWAN network for 12 days, from July 9 to 21, 2008.

The new fiber-optic network handles most of the city's computer traffic between several departments, including payroll, e-mail and law enforcement, and Childs had been in charge of implementing it.

Prosecutors say the alleged tampering cost the city $1.75 million.

Newsom, who was invited to the July 21 jail meeting by Childs' then-defense lawyer, said he feared that the encounter could be a booby trap and that the supposed password could cause more damage. But he said he concluded during the 20-minute meeting that Childs was sincere.

Newsom said he told Childs he was getting married to his second wife, Jennifer Siebel, the following weekend and was afraid there could be a complete breakdown of the system while he was gone.

"I was hopeful that would solicit a response on a human level," Newsom said. "I think Mr. Childs was appreciative of that concern."

When it turned out that the lengthy numerical password Childs gave him didn't work, Newsom said, "I was furious. I felt used."

Over the next few hours, Childs' defense lawyer provided two installments of configuration instructions that finally enabled city
technology managers to get back into the system.

Childs has been in custody on $5 million bail since July 2008. If convicted, he could face a maximum five-year sentence but would receive credit for time already served.

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