Lower Merion woman drops webcam suit

Posted: January 11, 2012

One of Lower Merion's unforgettable families has a message: Forget about us.

"We're done," Michael Robbins said Wednesday.

Robbins spoke minutes after his 20-year-old daughter Paige dropped her invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, the same district that last year paid his son Blake $175,000 to resolve allegations it spied on him through a school-issued laptop.

But like Blake Robbins' case, which drew an international spotlight to the school district and stirred finger-pointing and contempt from parents and officials inside it, this one didn't end without a dose of theater.

During and after a hearing before a federal district judge in Philadelphia, Paige Robbins and her lawyers disagreed about who, why and when they decided to drop her claim that her laptop webcam may have captured half-naked photos of her before she graduated from Harriton High School in 2009.

Attorney Mary Elizabeth Bogan, who filed the suit for Paige Robbins last month, told U.S. District Judge John Padova she had "irreconcilable conflicts" with Robbins and her parents and wanted to withdraw from the case.

Bogan said their already strained relationship hit a breaking point when Robbins' father demanded that she litigate the suit for free, instead of for a share of any damages recovered, as she said they had previously agreed.

Bogan said she believed that Robbins and her family were stung by a crush of negative publicity and money-grabbing accusations in the wake of the suit, even though she had warned them. "I told them to put their seat belts on," Bogan said.

The Robbinses acknowledged they were bothered by the reaction to their new claim. It came a year after Blake Robbins collected his settlement, and the district paid more than $400,000 in fees to his lawyer.

After conceding that its laptops inadvertently captured tens of thousands of webcam photos of students, Lower Merion also pledged to alert students before monitoring or activating tracking software on their computers.

Paige Robbins and her parents said she was one of the students notified that her laptop camera had been activated. They said their goal was to find and destroy the photos of her, not to get a payout.

The Robbinses said they pressed Bogan to drop the suit days after she filed it on Dec. 7 - "so we wouldn't be bashed like we were the last time," Paige Robbins said - but that she instead filed a motion asking to withdraw as her attorney.

And what might have been a routine legal process instead became a tangled one when the Robbinses appeared in court Wednesday with Mark Haltzman, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement for Blake Robbins.

Haltzman told the judge that Paige Robbins wanted to drop her case, but first say something about it. Haltzman also said he wasn't her attorney. With two lawyers at Robbins' side but neither wanting to represent her, Padova grew impatient.

"If you want to use this hearing to make a public relations statement, that's not appropriate," the judge chided Haltzman. "Look, we've got a lot of business (to do) here in the federal court."

Ultimately the judge turned to Robbins and asked if she just wanted to drop the whole thing. "Yes," she said.

"I see a big smile," Padova replied. "Yes," Robbins said.

The school district's lawyer, Henry Hockeimer, sat silently throughout the proceeding. Lower Merion spokesman Doug Young later called the case "a shameless, opportunistic suit that had absolutely no merit and should never have been filed."

Robbins' father said the family has come a long way since reports two years ago that they had a record of civil judgments and owed almost $30,000 on their electric bill.

He said Blake, now a Harriton senior, hopes to study premed at college, and the family launched a successful women's clothing business.

"We don't have to make a living out of suing our neighborhood school," Michael Robbins said.


Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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