David Letterman Lawyer Says Alleged Extortionist's Claims Are Bogus

Letterman's attorney said Halderman's actions was "classic blackmail."

ByABC News via logo
November 10, 2009, 8:43 AM

Nov. 11, 2009— -- A laywer for David Letterman said he's not buying claims that the comedian's alleged extortionist was simply trying to negotiate a business deal when he hit up the talk show host for $2 million.

"Who negotiates a business transaction at 6 a.m. in the shadows of someone's apartment building? who says 'Your world is about to collapse?" attorney Daniel Horwitz told "Good Morning America" today. "Those are not the earmarks of a legitimate business transaction."

Yet Gerald Shargel, the lawyer for former CBS News producer Robert "Joe" Halderman, stuck by the assertion -- and his client's apparent defense -- that Halderman was simply trying to sell Letterman a screenplay. He asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss the charges against his cilent.

Prosecutors have accused Halderman of blackmailing Letterman into paying him $2 million to keep evidence of Letterman's affairs with female staffers a secret.

"The question is what constitutes extortion under the New York statute," Shargel asked today on "GMA" in a debate with Horwitz. "Would it have been better to send it Federal Express?"

Shargel said today that Halderman had a first amendment right to offer Letterman a chance to buy the "intellectual property" that Halderman possessed. He claimed it was something Halderman easily could have turned into a book or a screenplay or sold to celebrity news outlets like TMZ.

"It was a commercial transaction. It may not have been an ordinary commercial transaction," but it didn't break the law, Shargel said. "He had the right to sell it to anyone he wanted to."

Horwitz countered that Halderman had not simply offered up a business deal in that early morning meeting, but threatened Letterman's personal and professional life.

"When you look at the totality of the circumstances, this adds up to a functional gun to somebody's head, saying 'Pay me or else,'" Horwitz said. "You can dress this up however you want, but, like I said earlier, this is classic blackmail."

"David Letterman," he added, " is fully prepared to go all the way here."