A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

David Letterman Wasn't Extorted

As a defense lawyer, the job is to defend. Defending means determining the appropriate defense to the charge. There are simple defenses: didn't do it, that guy did it, insanity, statute of limitations has run, charge is not appropriate, and of course the old "I wasn't stealing his car, I was just borrowing it for a while. I was going to bring it back."

While it appears that David Letterman was asked to pay $2 million dollars for silence on some scandalous allegations, we are learning now that, well, it was really nothing more than an everyday "commercial transaction."

Let's begin.

The relevant portion of the extortion statute of New York says that: a person obtains property by Extortion when he compels or induces another person to deliver such property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will:

(v) Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule

According to John Eligon over at the New York Times City Blog: the defense lawyer's follow up to this classic interview, is that Robert Joel Halderman was simply trying to sell a story, not extort money, when he delivered a one-page screenplay proposal and other evidence to David Letterman in September about Mr. Letterman’s affairs with women who worked for him.


More from Eligon's article: “This was a commercial transaction,” Mr. Shargel said outside the Lower Manhattan courthouse surrounded by a horde of cameras and reporters. “It was nothing more.”

At the heart of the defense argument is that Mr. Halderman’s only intention was to write a book or a screenplay about Mr. Letterman’s affairs. But before going forward with the project, Mr. Halderman offered to sell Mr. Letterman the rights to the story for $2 million....

As a defense lawyer, clients come in all the time with theories of defense. Some are obviously crafted to see if the defense lawyer will "buy it," and some are novel ideas, such as this one that Halderman wasn't trying to get $2 million from Letterman to keep the story quiet, but that he was just engaging in the sale of his "screenplay."

Defense lawyers owe an obligation to their clients to be candid with them about the appearance of certain theories of defense. All of use as defense lawyers deal with the client who complains "I don't think you believe me, how can you fight for me?

I think I do a disservice to my clients when I buy into a defense that I just don't think a jury will take seriously.

Even if the media will listen.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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  1. I watched Shargel on GMA try his best to pitch his defense. It was painful. I've never seen him strain so hard for words, to put together a cogent argument with some small degree of belief.

    It's not that the argument doesn't have some rational elements to it, but it just doesn't pass the smell test. If he loses his motion to dismiss the indictment, it would be a good time to have a nice chat with the prosecutor about a deal. This defense isn't going to fly.

  2. Anonymous12:20 PM

    I remember, as a baby lawyer, my client reciving 30 days in jail for petit larceny. The Judge, unimpressed by his explanation, told me, "that was ten for the crime, twenty for the story".

    More than once, I have said variations of "If you cannot do better than that, it might be a good idea to just sit there, look handsome, and see what can be proven."

    I'm just sayin'