Importantly for David Kernell, the judge also recommended that the 22-year old see out his time in a halfway house rather than prison. Under sentencing guidelines, he could have spent between 15 and 21 months in an adult state prison.
Kernell had been found guilty in April of accessing Palin’s [email protected] account, resetting its password and posting private email messages and two photographs to the 4chan.org message board under the alias ‘Rubico’.
The emails - the contents of which appeared to cast doubt on her judgment in certain areas of her political life - later turned up on Wikileaks.
Complicating matters was the fact that Palin was Republican vice presidential candidate at the time and Kernell was the son of Mike Kernell, a Memphis Democratic state representative.
“This is a shocking invasion of the Governor's privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them," said a statement from the Republican presidential campaign at the time.
Sarah Palin emerges oddly from the affair despite being the ostensible victim. In her initial use of the poorly-secured email account to conduct political business she looked naive, and her later press release comparing the hack to the Watergate affair invited ridicule.
“As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates’ private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election,” she wrote at the time, without a hint of irony.
The judge in the case, US District Judge Thomas W. Phillips, faced a difficult balancing act, aware that right-wing politicians would be critical of letting Kernell off with community service, but also aware that email hacking cases offered no precedent in the US for a long jail term.