David Letterman Lawyer Says Alleged Extortionist's Claims Are Bogus

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

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."

Halderman Attorney: 'This Isn't About Some Illicit Affair'

Shargel accused Horwitz of ignoring crucial evidence in the case, including claims that Letterman had initially tried to work with Halderman. He denied he and his client were engaging in a smear campaign against Letterman because it was the talk show host himself who admitted on television in front of millions that he had sex with his staffers.

"This isn't about some illicit affair. This is, by his own admission, a hostile work environment," Shargel said. "That is precisely why that was valuable property."

Shargel told reporters Tuesday while standing outside a Manhattan courthouse that he had asked the judge to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence presented to the grand jury. He said the judge's decision whether to dismiss the case will be announced in January.

Earlier this week, a friend and former co-worker of Halderman said the news producer was confident and optimistic about his case.

"He has a really good lawyer and he really thinks he is going to do well with this case," Dr. Bob Arnot, who worked with Halderman at CBS for 14 years, told "GMA" Tuesday.

Halderman, who has pleaded not guilty, was released on $200,000 bail soon after Letterman admitted to his affairs and accused Halderman of blackmail on his "Late Show." If convicted, Halderman could face up to 15 years in prison.

"He does feel very confident and is willing to go to trial if necessary," Arnot said.

D.A. Says Tapes Prove Extortion

In a news conference last month, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said the screenplay described Halderman's one-page story proposal a scenario in which Letterman's world would "collapse all around him" and would lead to a "ruined reputation."

Morgenthau said the screenplay "covers all the necessary facts" to indict Halderman for attempted grand larceny.

Halderman lived until recently with Stephanie Birkitt, who had previously been a personal assistant to Letterman. Public documents indicate that Birkitt and Halderman lived together in Norwalk, Conn., from August 2005 to August 2009. Birkitt now has an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Halderman has been married and divorced twice, according to public records. He had two children with his second wife, and has three stepchildren. His former wife won custody of their children and now lives in Colorado.

Divorce records show that Halderman was ordered to pay $6,800 a month in alimony and child support, starting May 1, 2004.

Halderman has been suspended from his job as the investigation continues.