Stonington must distance itself from Haberek case

A Pawcatuck woman's claim that Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek sent her sexually graphic photos of himself using his town-issued BlackBerry is reminiscent of the situation involving former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Rep. Weiner initially claimed last year that someone had hacked his public Twitter account and used it to send a woman lewd photographs. After initially denying he was in any way responsible, when damning evidence eventually surfaced, Mr. Weiner was forced to admit he had "exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years," and resigned from office.

In 2009, Mr. Haberek made an eyebrow-raising announcement that his Facebook, Twitter and Tagged accounts had been removed from the town website to prevent any recurrence of users being able to access pornography through one of his social networking sites.

The first selectman said he had been informed that one of his "friends" on Tagged had posted 14 graphic photographs and one video of couples having sex. People visiting the town's website were able to view the images by clicking on Haberek's Tagged account on the Stonington home page and then clicking on a picture of a woman, which took users to her page.

Haberek said then he had not been aware of the images, did not know the woman and apologized if anyone was offended.

Questions lingered about the incident, though, and then two years ago Ms. Swain, who frequently attended town meetings, complained to state police that when she asked Mr. Haberek to stop leaving her telephone, email, text and Facebook messages he sent her sexually explicit photos of himself.

An investigation by state police determined no crime had been committed.

However, earlier this month Ms. Swain, who disputed the findings, filed a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages from the town and Mr. Haberek because she says the alleged pictures caused emotional distress and exacerbated migraine headaches.

Mr. Haberek has denied the accusation and this newspaper is not prepared to debate the merits of her case.

We are concerned, though, about the town's potential liability and legal costs. Last week the lawyer for Ms. Swain offered Stonington an opportunity to sever itself from the lawsuit. We strongly encourage officials to seize it.

Unlike the situation involving former Rep. Weiner, who admitted transgressions using his private computer, the case against Mr. Haberek, though unproven, could still force taxpayers to pay legal bills - regardless of whether she prevails in court - because he allegedly used the town's electronic equipment.

Ms. Swain's attorney, Scott Camassar of North Stonington, suggests two options to avoid litigation against the town.

One solution would require Mr. Haberek to turn over the photos he allegedly sent to Swain on Jan. 12, 2010, admit that he used the BlackBerry to do so and provide documentation about the time he sent the photos and where he was at the time.

Under the alternative proposal Haberek would have to agree to pay an independent computer forensics expert to analyze his BlackBerry, computer and other devices, consent to the release of material seized by state police with a search warrant after Swain complained about the incident, and agree to an attachment of his property and assets unless he demonstrates proof of adequate insurance to cover any potential damages.

Selectmen, members of the Board of Finance and other town officials must persuade Mr. Haberek to agree to either of these terms so the town can distance itself from future legal liability.

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