IBM woman avoids jail, judge imposes €1,000 fine
A JUDGE has decided to fine rather than jail a woman for contempt of court over her refusal to hand over confidential information taken from her employer.
Mr Justice George Birmingham imposed a €1,000 fine on Beate Schmid, who has been suspended from her job with IBM, and if she fails to pay it within a month, she will have to serve seven days in prison.
The High Court judge last week told Ms Schmid, Carnakelly, Kilmainhamwood, Co Meath, to bring along personal belongings to court in anticipation of getting a jail sentence over what he said was her clear breach of solemn undertakings to hand over the information which was contained on a computer memory stick.
Ms Schmid, who is in dispute with her employers IBM Ireland Product Distribution Ltd over her salary, has insisted she does not have the information which the company says had been copied by her from a USB memory stick the day after she took it. She says she has handed over everything the company wants.
IBM had sought attachment and committal to prison orders against Ms Schmid until she purges her contempt of court by making full disclosure as to what happened to the information on the memory stick.
She was suspended on April 15 for breaching company security policy.
Mr Justice Birmingham was told by Ms Schmid's counsel there had been no change in her position which she has consistently maintained. While she could present an alternative version, she would be telling a lie if she did so, her counsel said.
The judge said she had been consistently untruthful and obstructive.
An IBM expert had found she had copied the material and an independent expert had agreed, the judge said.
"It seems to me she is in breach of not only a court order but of solemn undertakings she gave to the court." he said.
He could only conclude this was "a result of foolishness or stupidity as much as it is of knavery".
However, he believed he could moderate the penalty (of imprisonment) he had proposed as the purpose of it was to bring her into compliance and he had no wish to incarcerate her if that can be avoided.
"It may well be she is determined to leave me with no choice and if that is the case, accommodation can be found for her in the Dochas Centre (women's wing of Mountjoy Prison)."
But, he said, it seemed possible to him to deal with this is a different way and he was therefore imposing a €1,000 fine with seven days imprisonment if she fails to pay in within a month.
That was not however an end of the matter because the undertakings she gave to comply with the orders to hand over the information remain in force and he would list the case again for July 30 next.
If he was told on that date that she had provided the material she unlawfully withheld, and has paid the fine, it would be possible to deal with the matter on a non-incarceration basis.