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Lawyer for alleged Letterman blackmailer asks judge to dismiss case

November 10, 2009 | 11:07 am

An attorney for Robert Halderman, who allegedly sought to extort $2 million from comic David Letterman, filed court papers today seeking to have the indictment dismissed, saying that the CBS producer had merely been seeking to sell the late-night host a screenplay treatment.

“Having experienced certain circumstances, he had the right to publish, he had the commercial right to sell and he had the right to offer the product to Mr. Letterman,” defense attorney Gerald Shargel told reporters after a brief appearance in Manhattan criminal court today.

“There was no extortion,” he added, as Halderman stood by him silently. “There was a treatment for sale. The facts of this case are largely undisputed. They’re simple and straightforward. This was a commercial transaction. It was nothing more. It did not violate the penal law. The district attorney’s office jumped all over this, I suggest, without taking an appropriate, objective view.”

Halderman, dressed in a dark suit and a green tie, maintained a somber expression throughout the court hearing and news conference, but did not comment. The veteran producer for the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours Mystery” was arrested Oct. 1 after attempting to cash a fake check for $2 million given to him by Letterman's attorney. New York Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau said his office has evidence that Halderman left Letterman a letter and a proposed screenplay in the back seat of his car early Sept. 9, threatening to make a movie exposing the comic's affairs unless Letterman paid Halderman money.

Halderman pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted grand larceny in the first degree, a crime punishable by as much as 15 years in prison, and has been suspended from CBS. He is due back in court in January for the judge's ruling on his motion to dismiss the case.

During today’s news conference, Shargel said the district attorney’s office overzealously pursued the case because of Letterman’s public profile. “I think that celebrity is why we are where we are today,” he said.

In his 34-page memorandum, Shargel also claimed that the grand jury may have been improperly instructed on the law and that New York’s extortion statute is vague and too broad.

After Halderman and Shargel walked away from the microphones, surrounded by a scrum of reporters and television cameras, attorneys for Letterman stepped forward to counter the defense’s position.

“The evidence described by Mr. Morgenthau in his press conference suggests that this is anything but a legitimate business transaction,” said Daniel J. Horwitz, a lawyer for the comic. “Ask yourself if the evidence of Mr. Halderman waiting in the shadows outside Mr. Letterman’s apartment building at 6 o'clock in the morning with an extortion demand to throw in the back of his car, threatening that his world is going to collapse, threatening Mr. Letterman’s personal and professional life if he didn’t pay Mr. Halderman a big chunk of money, and demanding that Mr. Letterman get back to Mr. Halderman in two hours – I suggest to you that that evidence is not a legitimate business transaction and it’s classic blackmail, no matter how Mr. Halderman’s lawyer wants to dress it up.”

Horwitz said he is confident that the motion to dismiss will be denied and that the case will proceed to trial. “And let me say this: Mr. Letterman is fully prepared to see this case through to the end, including testifying at a trial to see that justice is done,” he added.

-- Matea Gold