A Lower Merion school administrator who had the ability to activate cameras on students' laptops has agreed to answer questions under oath about her role in the tracking system and to let investigators inspect her home computer, her attorney said Friday.
Carol Cafiero had previously refused to give a deposition in the lawsuit spawned by the Web-cam system, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Her attorney, Charles Mandracchia, said he wanted his client to answer questions from FBI agents before submitting to lawyers' queries in the civil suit. She met with the agents this week.
"We wanted to determine exactly where the FBI was going," Mandracchia said. "Based on that interview, I feel confident that they're not looking at her because she did anything criminal."
Cafiero's agreement to testify and turn over her home computer, reached after a private teleconference with a federal judge on Friday, clears one roadblock in the legal dispute between the suburban district and Blake Robbins, a Harriton High School sophomore. The Robbins family's suit claims the district violated Blake Robbins' civil rights and used Web cams on school laptops to spy on students.
Meanwhile, wearied by the international attention caused by the suit, a group of Lower Merion parents asked the judge Friday to ban lawyers and other parties in the case from giving interviews near district schools or students' homes.
"We and many other parents of Lower Merion School District are outraged by the substantial distraction that the recent media frenzy has visited upon our district and our community," the parents wrote to U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois.
Cafiero's role had been one of the subplots in the saga that began when Robbins and his parents sued in February. She and a district technician, Michael Perbix, were the only employees authorized to turn on the now-disabled laptop security system, which the district implemented in September 2008 to help find missing and lost computers.
Lower Merion officials have acknowledged "serious mistakes" with the program, including instances in which the Web cams and software snapped at least 12,000 photos and laptop "screen shots" because technicians failed - or forgot - to turn the system off when a missing computer was found. The images include photos of students, the interiors of their homes, and programs or files running on their computers.
The Robbinses' attorney, Mark Haltzman, wanted to inspect Cafiero's personal computer, asserting in a motion last week that it might contain evidence that she had accessed the tracking program from home.
Haltzman wrote that Cafiero "may be a voyeur," and cited excerpts of e-mails between her and a school district technician in which both seemed to marvel over the new tracking technology. It was "like a little LMSD soap opera," the technician e-mailed Cafiero, who replied, "I know, I love it," according to the motion.
Haltzman's request elicited a fiery reply from Mandracchia. Calling the motion "a scandalous, malicious and abusive attack" on his client, he said Cafiero had never viewed any of the Web-cam photos from home and turned the system on only when asked or authorized to do so by other district officials.
Mandracchia also said the e-mail excerpts Haltzman cited were taken out of context and concerned legitimate efforts in September 2008 to track down six laptops stolen from the Harriton High gym.
After Friday's teleconference, which DuBois barred The Inquirer from hearing, the judge turned down Haltzman's request for an order compelling Cafiero to turn over her computer or face sanctions. The two sides then struck their tentative deal.
Haltzman acknowledged an agreement had been reached but otherwise declined to discuss it.
According to Mandracchia, Cafiero will turn over her home computer to experts at L3, a computer-forensics firm hired by the district, who are to inspect it by Tuesday. Mandracchia said the experts and the judge would determine whether any of the computer's contents were relevant enough to turn over to Haltzman.
The district has put Cafiero and Perbix on paid leave while the internal investigation by L3 and lawyers from the firm Ballard Spahr L.L.P. is under way. A full report on the investigation is due May 3.
DuBois did not immediately rule on the request Friday from the parents group.
"The incessant news cycles about this litigation are plainly taking their toll on the education of our children," the parents' letter said. "It has become a harmful distraction to the very persons that plaintiffs and their counsel seek to represent."