Monday, November 2, 2009

Blackmail, legal and illegal

Reflecting on the recent Letterman case, the NY Times ponders The Art of Blackmail

Doing it on your own is illegal, but if you do much the same thing by threatening a lawsuit, it is legal.

"Blackmail is a “wonderfully curious offense,” to use the phrase of Paul H. Robinson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and his coauthors in a recent paper. A threat to tell the truth is no crime, and neither is asking someone for money. But if you demand money to prevent the truth from being told, Professor Robinson said, you’ve crossed the line. At its core, he explained, the offense is “a form of wrongful coercion.” "

However you can threaten to sue if a settlement is not reached first, and that isn't blackmail.

"Those confrontations, however, did not cross the line into the criminal realm, he said, because they had been sanitized by lawyering. Attorneys, he noted, can create a legal filing that promises to bring out unpleasant facts in depositions or during trial; a settlement is not, technically, a payoff. He called it “wrapping an extortion threat in a legal cloak.”
It happens all the time, said Gerald B. Lefcourt, a criminal defense attorney in Manhattan. “Threatened lawsuits, and even filed lawsuits, are often no more than blackmail,” he said.

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