Sister of Lower Merion webcam student files suit

Attorney Mark S. Haltzman (in suit), with the Robbins family, says of questions of the debts: "Why does that matter?"
Attorney Mark S. Haltzman (in suit), with the Robbins family, says of questions of the debts: "Why does that matter?" (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 08, 2011

The sister of the student who brought the first webcam lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District two year ago now has filed her own federal lawsuit, which administrators have slammed as "an attempted money-grab and a complete waste of tax dollars."

Paige Robbins, 19, of Penn Valley, alleges that the district invaded her privacy when it remotely snapped pictures via a laptop in her home while she was undressed.

She is the sister of Blake Robbins, 17, who as a sophomore at Harriton High School sued the Lower Merion district for invasion of privacy and agreed to a $175,000 settlement.

A photo taken by his laptop webcam showed him asleep in bed.

Like her brother, "Paige Robbins was an innocent victim whose privacy rights were violated by the school," said her attorney, Mary Elizabeth Bogan.

Paige Robbins was issued a laptop during her junior and senior years at Harriton High School. She graduated in 2010.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, charges that the webcam spied on her while she "was in the bathroom, or in the nude, or partially dressed or sleeping or in her bedroom in a compromised state."

The source of the allegation was a deposition given by Lynn Matsko, Harriton's assistant vice principal, on April 7, 2010, which the suit said included the following:

Q: "Was she - Paige Robbin [sic] naked in the pictures that you looked; Do you remember? Her top was off, right? In the picture that you looked at?"

A: "There was a picture of probably Paige Robbins'. I can't imagine any IT person umm, I mean, it . . ."

Bogan said Thursday that Paige Robbins delayed filing the suit for two years "due to the sensitivity of the subject matter of what had occurred."

The school district, through spokesman Doug Young, issued a blistering response, questioning both motive and content.

"The complaint is deceptive and misleading, relying on excerpts from a deposition transcript that have been edited to omit key words," Young said.

Young said a federal investigation determined that "no one ever saw a compromising image of Ms. Robbins or anyone else."

Further, he said, Bogan misstated what vice principal Matsko said in her deposition. According to Young, Matsko actually said she saw a picture of Paige's face, that final word was dropped in the complaint's iteration of Matsko's testimony.

"There's no indication whether this was a webcam image or some other image," Young said, and questioned Robbins' motives in filing the legal action two years after the fact.

"It appears Ms. Robbins simply waited to turn 18 so she could attempt to obtain a payout of her own from [Lower Merion] taxpayers."

Told of those comments, Bogan replied: "Who did the wrongdoing here? The school district is attempting to shift the focus to . . . a 19-year-old woman standing up for her constitutional rights, when the school district has a track record of wrongdoing."

Bogan declined to say what the photos depicted or if her client had seen them.

The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and $1,000 per day for every day on which the state's electronic wiretapping laws were violated.

When Blake Robbins filed his lawsuit in 2009, he was represented by attorney Mark Haltzman. As part of the settlement with the school district, Haltzman earned $425,000. It wasn't known why the Robbins family switched attorneys; a call to the Robbins family home Thursday was not returned.

Court scrutiny led the district to acknowledge flaws in the system it used for two years to track missing computers. The webcam function has been deactivated by court order.

The case catapulted the Robbins family and the district into a national spotlight, stirring debate on the use of technology in schools.


Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at bcook@philly.com. Read her blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo.

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