What's Wrong With This Picture?


Remember that Pennsylvania school that was spying on its students through their laptop computers? The school has agreed to pay out a $610,000 settlement.

But check out how that figure breaks down:

The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

So public school officials get caught illegally spy on students. But no one gets fired. And none of the offending parties will be fined. Instead, a municipal insurer (which will ultimately affect taxpayers) will pay a decent settlement to one student, a small settlement to another, and a small fortune to their lawyer. 

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  1. The system works. God bless America!

  2. Not exactly shocking, but definitely disgusting.

  3. Damn your nimble fingers, TTMNASCAR.

  4. Who the fuck agrees to give their lawyer 70%?

    1. I’m doubting it was a contingent fee arrangment.

      More likely they won their case and then petitioned the court for an award of fees and costs and won that.

      1. Excuse me, I need to read more better. It was a settlement, not a judgment. So part of the settlement is payment of attorney fees. Which is a separate thing from compensation to the plaintiff.

  5. Yup.

    The issue is quantifying the plaintiff’s damages and coming up with an appropriate punitive amount.

    And then compensating the attorney for the work done in getting the favorable judgment.

    At $425/hour – a not unrealistic rate for a good lawyer doing that kind of work these days – that means he did only 1,000 hours of work. But I’m sure that’s not the case – not that this does not mean the lawyer put $425,000 in his pocket. That’s compensation for his time as well as (most likely) court fees, court reporter costs, paralegals and administrative assistant time, etc. etc.

    It’s not hard to rack up a couple hundred grand in litigation of this type. The question then is what were the kids actual and special damages – and he wasn’t actually injured or anything, so how do you come up with what is a reasonable amount to compensate him? And how do you decide what is a correct punitive amount?

    It’s more of an “art” (if even that) than science.

    1. Since the taxpayers weren’t invading this kid’s privacy, why do we pay???
      Since the school officials were, why aren’t they fired (and prosecuted, for say invasion of privacy, and maybe sex crimes, as I’m sure he must have been in his underwear, or less, at some point).

      I hurt myself laughing…holding gubermint officials accountable…heard it a million times, but it never gets old.

    2. It’s more of an “art” (if even that) than science.

      Art as in con art maybe. Sounds like some sheep fucking going on here.

    3. Only 1,000 hours? You mean roughly half his billable year was occupied by the litigation? What’s more, you aren’t accounting for the fact that costs for paralegals, staff attorneys, and experts have to come out of that chunk. We needn’t go into how that pay also goes to offsetting the costs that the firm incurs for cases it loses.

  6. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

    I’m sure Mister Haltzman will put that money to good use. Like donate a big chunk to the Democratic Party as a reward for their excellent work in derailing tort reform.

    1. $425,000 – $2,400 = $422,600 for hookers and blow. I went into the wrong profession.

      1. I did, too.

      2. And people on here complained about a GM plant workers making $75 an hour.

  7. So public school officials get caught illegally spy[ing] on students. But no one gets fired.

    If the education system is anything like the justice system, the guilty parties can expect promotions to state-level administrative positions in the next few years.

    1. And a medal.

      1. And raises all around!

        Oh, and three ‘protest days’ a year.

  8. $422,600 for hookers and blow.

    I’m pretty sure attorney’s fees aren’t tax free. But, yeah, you’d still end up with a decent roll of walking-around money.

    1. I’m pretty sure attorney’s fees aren’t tax free

      But hookers and blow are!

  9. The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan.

    What I would like to know is why one student is making more than 17 times the other. Does having the wrong name have anything to do with it?

    1. I’m sure it has to do with how many times the school administrators activated their webcams and what they spied on. Maybe they watched Robbins 28 times and saw him in his skivvies, but maybe they watched Hassan only three times and didn’t see him doing much.

      1. I’m surprised it didn’t occur to these administrators to simply go to the students’ respective facebook pages.

  10. That looks like it’s double what most lawyers working for no up-front fee would charge… interesting, but as it was in his contract (and this isn’t a malpractice case) I’m surprised Reason is complaining about it.

    That said, the axe should have come down on some administrators… possibly some charges if there are any aplicable invasion of privacy laws.

  11. And this surprises you? This is par for the course in civil rights litigation against public entities. Not only does no one get fired, but it is likely that the taxpayers paid for the defense of the offenders, and also very possible that they would be indemnified for any judgment that may have been entered against them. And because the civil rights statute makes the defendant liable for attorneys fees even if the case settles, the attorney can use this as settlement leverage, especially because the hourly fees often far outweigh the damages the offended party actually suffered.

    I know of one civil rights case against a public entity that settled for about $500,000 – and only $80,000 went to the plaintiff. The rest went to his lawyer.

    This is why I am skeptical about civil lawsuits as a means of enforcing consitutional rights. Unless the laws are changed to actually punish the wrongdoers, it is only the taxpayers who suffer. The wrongdoers have no incentive to follow the law if you and I end up paying for their wrongdoing. It is yet another example of public servants playing with other peoples’ money

  12. I’d have awarded each kid a $200 gift certificate to take the family to the Cheesecake Factory in King of Prussia.
    And maybe $1000 to the attorney for doing the paperwork.

  13. IIRC, the lady administering the computer security program did get fired when the initial story broke, as did an unnamed individual who was accessing the cameras on various kids’ computers (that were owned by the school, btw).

    I’m not condoning what the school did, however, these kids parents should have read the agreement they signed authorizing the school access to the camera. It was poorly written and did not prevent this kind of surveillance. Instead, perverts and busybodies ended up looking at kids and then tried to wreck those kids (one at least) lives when they got called out on their behavior.

    Either way, the school system’s insurance rates will now go up dramatically and the taxpayers will be on the hook for them. The only real winner is the attorney and the initial plaintiff. I know I’d have loved to have gotten a $175k payment for a school admin to have watched me sleep or jack off a few (dozen) times a week when I was in high school.

    1. Shit, they could have watched me do anything they wanted (assuming I wouldn’t get in trouble for it) for $175k.

  14. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

    The sweet smell of justice. It smells like . . . victory.

  15. The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

    And lawyers, especially ambulance chasing tort lawyers, wonder why are despised by the general populace.

    Q. What’s the difference between a dead skunk and a dead lawyer on the highway?

    A. Skid marks in front of the skunk.

    A man walks into a bar, orders a drink and loudly proclaims “All lawyers are assholes”.

    A drunk at the end of the bar stumbles to his feet and says “I object to that characterization”.

    The man asks “Why? Are you a lawyer”

    The drunk replies “No. I’m an asshole”.

  16. Is there a public email address for this guy? What a dirty prick.

    1. If you don’t like how much a lawyer charges, employ a different lawyer. Time to update the list of issues where Reason doesn’t accept the reign of free markets:

      – legal services
      – sporting entertainment
      – tippy-tops

      1. It wasn’t my choice to employ him, and it’s sad that the court system is okay with this use of taxpayer money, I think that’s the point.

      2. Time to update the list of people who don’t understand that criticism is perfectly compatible with a free market.

        1. No update necessary, Tulpa has been on that list for years.

      3. Time to update the list of people who have no concept of a free market.

        There’s a reason tort reform has been consistently ignored. A free market would kill the bullshit 425/hour crap.

  17. His vcard is publicly available.…..tzman.html

  18. This is how it was going to end from the start. I don’t feel like finding it right now, but I remmeber reading that the lawyer had actually sued his clients (i.e., the parents of the kid who sued) for nonpayment…so perhaps this was their negotiated settlement? You let me sue the school on your behalf, and I wipe away your debt? It was in a Philadelphia Inquirer article back when the whole thing hit.


  19. I’m confused. Are lawyers scumbags or not? Mr. Balko infers that they are. So, are lawyers who bilk taxpayers (through the medium of a municipal insurer “which will ultimately affect taxpayers”) just as bad as cops who shoot dogs?

    1. [crickets]

      1. I’m a self-hating lawyer, and it is things like this that do it. This is the system we have, and it kinda sucks.

        Still, rights wouldn’t enforce themselves if you couldn’t bill $400/hour.

    2. Are ghetto kids drug dealers or not?

      Are pit bulls mean or not?

      Are clergy pedophiles or not?

      Its this absolutist attitude that makes it hard for people like you to understand a world full of variables and (shudder) “grey areas”.

      Of course you probably answered yes to all three anyway.

      1. Yes. Where’s my gun?

    3. Of course not!

  20. So now that public school officials know that the taxpayers will pay for things like this, this kind of thing will never happen again, right?

  21. This is typical Pennsylvania, and ultimately nothing will change as far as the behavior of our school officials.

  22. Wait – I’m confused. Are we allowed to talk shit about lawyers again? Is it kosher as long as we don’t mention sheep?

  23. More flaky anti-lawyer crap from Reason. Joy.

  24. I think I know what Balko is doing here. By only giving us the facts of this story, he is allowing us to share our thoughts on the settlement amount and who it went to.

    It sure appears that a lot of folks on here don’t know what to think. Should we be mad there were no prosecutions? Up to us. Should we be mad the lawyer got such a huge % of the deal? Up to us. Should we be mad the taxpayers will ultimately pay? Up to us. Should we be mad because no real damages were suffered? Up to us.

    This one is chock-full of things that typically tear these threads apart, but you don’t state your opinion to get us started. Well played, Mr. Balko. Well played.

  25. In addition to that, the school still believes, actually believes it’s underfunded, after doling out 3/4 of a million in a settlement it had to see coming.

    Of course, one might argue that yes, NOW they’re underfunded. As we know, the school was ‘underfunded’ before this settlement case, so it’s turtles all the way down.

  26. Interesting article – a private corporation provided legal services to a client at a rate the market determined, yet Reason bitches about the arrangement. Great stuff…

  27. Interesting article – a private corporation provided legal services to a client at a rate the market determined, yet Reason bitches about the arrangement. Great stuff…

    1. Balko didn’t bitch at all. His story detailed what happened and asked a question.

      I think this is an example of a Reason writer trolling the Reason readers, and that makes me laugh because it got me at first as well.

      1. Agreed, but the title of the article is: “What’s wrong with this picture?”, not: “Is there anything wrong with this picture?”

        The former implies there is something wrong, the question being what?

        The latter leaves it open.

        My 2c.

        1. That’s how dogs get shot.

  28. that is fucked up……….

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