February 25, 2010

This doesn't surprise me one bit

Why? It's America, after all: Laptop family is no stranger to legal disputes. As in the recent Lower Merion School District laptop "snooping case."

Before the commission was yet another appeal from a Philadelphia-area family, again seeking a break on unpaid electric and gas bills that by last year were closing in on $30,000.

This family lived in a $986,000 house on the Main Line. The breadwinner, until recently, had earned well more than $100,000 per year. Yet he and his wife were in hock to creditors, ranging from Uncle Sam to their former synagogue - and had regularly been stiffing Peco Energy for five years, breaking payment plan after payment plan.

"Our procedures," the commission's Tyrone J. Christy wrote in a Dec. 17 motion, "were not meant to allow customers living in $986,000 houses, with incomes in excess of $100,000 per year, to run up arrearages approaching $30,000."

Longtime Peco spokesman Michael Wood said this week that the family's debt was the largest household delinquency he could recall, except for one theft-of-services case.

In addition to the Peco debt, the PUC noted, the Robbinses had been hit with numerous civil judgments in recent years totaling more than $365,000.

According to court records, their unpaid debts range from $62,692 owed to the IRS to lesser debts of a few thousand to their dentist, their former synagogue's preschool, and a Montgomery County lawyer.

Michael Robbins is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with his former employer, Interstate Motor Carriers Agency Inc. of Freehold, N.J.

In a federal lawsuit filed by Haltzman last year, Robbins contends that Interstate owes him about $5 million in commissions. Bill Buckley, an attorney for Interstate, declined to comment.

Huh. Could it be that this laptop controversy was the "perfect vehicle" by which this family could recoup some cash?

Did anyone catch the brief statement by Lindy Matsko, assistant vice principal at Harriton High School yesterday? I've rarely seen someone so adamant in their own defense, not to mention genuine. Robbins' lawyer Mark S. Haltzman said "he had warned the [Robbins] family that its members' lives would be placed under a microscope" -- and he's right. Though he says this laptop lawsuit should be viewed independently of the family's past legal troubles, I wonder if he actually said that with a straight face -- especially since it seems professional litigant-to-be Blake Robbins' (the son/student) story seems sketchy. Blake said "Ms. Matsko does not deny that she saw a Web-cam picture and screenshot of me in my home;" yet the vice-principal had stated "At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop Web cam." Maybe that's a substantive difference, but I sure doubt it.

Sorry, but I feel little-to-no sympathy for people that refuse to pay their bills -- and get sued for it -- especially when they're living in the lap of luxury. Hey Robbins family -- Your rights were [supposedly] violated by the school district? What about the rights of all those you've bilked out of rightful payments?

(Story h/t to Colossus R&D man Gooch!)

Posted by Hube at February 25, 2010 06:37 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Assume every bit of the information about the family is true, Hube -- does it make the violation that is alleged to have occurred any less severe? Does it make the alleged over-reaching by the school district any less outrageous? The other legal woes here are irrelevant to the issue in this case -- which is why those other issues would never be permitted to be mentioned in court.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at February 25, 2010 07:06 PM

The key word is "alleged" and my belief is that they are just THAT, the more I hear about this story. But ultimately, you are right. I just feel zero sympathy for the plaintiffs, however.

Posted by: Hube at February 25, 2010 07:16 PM

It even seems that it was the kid's (parents') failure to pay the insurance fee that prompted the district to activate the cam, which they've claimed is a security feature to enable them to locate the laptop's whereabouts:

Even so, it was the apparent failure to pay a fee - a $55 insurance payment to permit the Robbinses' son Blake to take his laptop home from Harriton High School - that might have prompted the district to activate the Web cam.

I'd sure be interested in seeing what sort of contract had to be signed in order to make use of these laptops.

Posted by: Hube at February 25, 2010 08:51 PM

Even if that is true, the effort to discipline the kid for conduct at home unrelated to the laptop is a vast overreach of the authority of the school and probably a violation of the district's own policies.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at February 25, 2010 09:05 PM

If that is indeed accurate, again, it sure is. But I have my doubts ...

Posted by: Hube at February 25, 2010 09:08 PM

A theory proposed by a listener to Michael Smerconish that I really like: Suppose the kid was having a webchat with another student and did something "inappropriate" ala drug use or sexual, and it was the other student who clicked the photo during the chat and brought it to the AP. Then it would be possible for both to be true: the school raised the issue because of a webcam photo AND the asst principal never used the webcam to spy on anyone.

The longer I think about that, the better it fits with the facts (and the apparently conflicting statements) as we have them.


Posted by: steve Newton at February 26, 2010 02:11 PM

Very interesting, Steve! And indeed quite plausible!

Posted by: Hube at February 26, 2010 02:17 PM