Halderman's Lawyer Eagerly Awaits Cross-Examining David Letterman

Gerry Shargel, the excellent New York defense lawyer for Joe Halderman, the CBS news producer accused of extorting money from David Letterman, appeared on both the Today Show this morning and Geraldo At Large last night. You can watch both interviews here.

He offered more details on the Geraldo segment than the Today show, perhaps because Ann Curry acted like a accusatory prosecutor while Geraldo, who went to law school with Gerry and considers him a friend, was more conversational than inquisitional and didn't start from the premise that Halderman is guilty. [More...]

On both interviews, Gerry was careful in what he discussed. There are ethical rules for lawyers on what they can disseminate to the media. For example, they can't discuss specific evidence, but they can respond to allegations publicly made by the other side. New York DA Robert Morganthau gave a press conference last week with details of the allegations, and as we all know, Letterman disclosed details of events on his show Thursday night. While on the one hand, it seems Shargel's media rounds are designed to deny those accounts and remind people to keep an open mind, it also sounds like he's laying the seeds for a defense.

What did Shargel say other than Halderman is a good guy, well respected, not stupid, has had financial difficulties for a long time and the charges and statements of the DA and Letterman are one-sided, not evidence and haven't been tested by cross-examination?

He said he's looking forward to cross-examining Letterman and that Letterman disclosed only what he wanted to disclose. He made a distinction between Letterman telling his side of the story and Letterman telling what he wanted to disclose. Here's Shargel responding to Ann Curry:

CURRY: But I'm giving you access to the media this morning, and you're not actually giving your client's side of the story.

Mr. SHARGEL: But you know what, David Letterman didn't give his side of the story. David Letterman gave what he wanted the public to know. He wanted to get out ahead of the story, and that's exactly what he did. He's a master at manipulating audiences. That's what he does for a living. So to think that David Letterman gave the entire story and there's nothing more to be said is simply wrong. But...

What is he implying with the distinction?

Then, there was this:

CURRY: ...the evidence is piling up against him. So why would he go to the length that he did in allegedly delivering a package to Letterman with photographs in this package and a letter threatening to expose his sexual relationships?

Mr. SHARGEL: Those points only take on significance by looking at the surrounding circumstances. And what this trial's going to be about, or all about--well, it'll all be about the surrounding circumstances. And that's what we intend to deal with.

CURRY: What do you mean by the surrounding circumstances?

Mr. SHARGEL: Well, what were the...

CURRY: Is it about his relationship with his...

Mr. SHARGEL: About motives--about motives and intent. And it's not only the motive, intent and conduct of Joe Halderman, it's the motive, intent and conduct of David Letterman as well. As I've said, I look forward to cross-examining David Letterman.

Considering Shargel said Letterman having sex with an intern is no big deal in this day and age, and "the surrounding circumstances, motives and intent" of both Letterman and his client regarding their interactions will be issues in the case, he's going somewhere, but where?

It seems Shargel is going to go after Letterman, not for having sex with an intern, but for how this whole thing came about. On Geraldo, Shargel agreed with Geraldo who asked why the first calls between Halderman and Letterman's lawyer weren't recorded. (Interesting that Geraldo knew they weren't.) It seems the genesis of their interactions will play a part.

Letterman and Stephanie Birkitt were close, he paid for her law school. But they broke up in 2003, before Letterman's son was born. She and Halderman only recently broke up. Did something happen between Halderman and Letterman in which Letterman made it clear he was unhappy with how Halderman treated Birkitt? Is this where the diaries come in, as a means of reminding Letterman his conduct towards Birkitt was less than stellar as well?

Shargel says Halderman didn't have the specific intent to extort, Halderman isn't stupid, and extortionists don't take checks. So why was his client accepting $2 million -- what was the payment for?

Most puzzling was Shargel's statements to Geraldo that there will be an issue as to who Letterman was having an affair with.

“It’s not only a question of having sexual affairs – that might be a big yawn, this is 21st century America,” said Shargel to Rivera. “But that’s not the issue; I think the larger issue at the trial, will be, who did he have the affair with?”

Maybe Shargel is not referring to the identity of the woman, but her status, as in, Letterman had sex with the woman Halderman was in love with and living with until last month. Is he hinting that Letterman approached Halderman first and inserted himself into their relationship or was somehow responsible for Halderman and Birkitt's break-up? And even if true, how would that negate an intent to extort?

If not, and Shargel was referring to the identity of the woman, is he saying it was Letterman's involvement with this other woman that was the subject of the interaction between Letterman and Halderman? Did Birkitt's diaries discuss that her and Letterman's breakup was due to Letterman becoming involved with someone else?

Usually I can read between the lines of what a lawyer says about a client's case on tv. This one has me stumped. Somehow, the bottom line will be that Halderman, in his mind, had a legitimate reason to accept a $2 million payment from Letterman. But we're no closer to knowing what that might be -- other than that there will be allegations it was discussed in the initial unrecorded conversations between Halderman and Letterman's lawyer, and that Letterman's conduct vis-a-vis Birkitt or another woman will play a role.

[Thread is closed]

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  • Display: Sort:
    Oh, one thing I saw: (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by TheRealFrank on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 05:21:29 PM EST
    Keith Olbermann wrote on this baseball blog about working with Halderman:

    Without defending Letterman's forced-to-confess-transgressions, I went slack-jawed went suspect Robert J. Halderman was arrested. He has been a Producer for CBS News 48 Hours, but what you haven't read is that when I made my television debut as the New York correspondent for CNN Sports in 1981, Robert J. "Joe" Halderman was the chief assignment editor in the CNN New York bureau. You know when somebody gets arrested for some horrific or moronic crime (like taking a personal check for two million dollars as a blackmail payment), you hear somebody say "that's not the guy I knew"? Not this time. This is exactly the guy we knew at CNN in 1981.

    Ouch (none / 0) (#6)
    by Socraticsilence on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 05:49:16 PM EST
    Just ouch.

    I'm shocked, (none / 0) (#9)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 06:49:42 PM EST
    shocked, <snark> I tell you that Olbermann took a vocal side in this and it just happens to be with the more successful guy who can help Olbermann's career.

    I wish lawyers (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by eric on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 06:49:06 PM EST
    would quit trying their cases in the media.  Yes, I know that there are exceptions to the rules that allow one to say or refute certain things.  And I know that the media attention is probably a tempting avenue to advertise yourself.  But I really think "no comment" should be the rule.

    I can assure you (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 08:00:20 PM EST
    Gerry Shargel has no need to advertise himself and it's not his personality to do so. He's trying to deflect the adverse publicity put out by Letterman and the D.A. He does not try his cases in the media.

    IMO the quicker the court issues a gag (none / 0) (#21)
    by oculus on Tue Oct 06, 2009 at 12:08:44 AM EST
    order the better.

    shargel is saying: (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by cpinva on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 09:47:55 PM EST
    "yes, my client's an idiot. yes, he committed extortion. but, mr. letterman is really a pr*ck, and i'll prove that on cross (assuming i don't get tossed in jail for contempt). because of this, my client had ample reason to commit the crime, and should be acquitted."

    aside from the obvious, it doesn't sound to me like mr. shargel has the foggiest clue what the heck he's rambling on about.

    Or Shargel could just be (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 11:44:40 PM EST
    blowing as much smoke as he can manage, which is also not an unheard-of tactic.  He may also be hinting to Letterman about embarassing things he's considering bringing into trial in hopes of intimidating him as a witness. That's also not unheard-of.

    Btw, you say, "Shargel agreed with Geraldo who asked why the first calls between Halderman and Letterman's lawyer weren't recorded. (Interesting that Geraldo knew they weren't."

    No mystery here.  Geraldo knew they weren't because that's what the more detailed news media reports have said.

    Shargel's very careful and contained (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 04:57:27 PM EST
    statement in court during the arraignment of his client:  very professional.  I thought, here's an attorney who will play it straight.  Now though.

    I don't know much about trials at all. (none / 0) (#2)
    by TheRealFrank on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 05:04:19 PM EST
    But it seems to me that any public statement made about person X by a lawyer representing person X won't tell anybody anything. What else is he going to say? "Yeah, my client is guilty as hell?"

    And, as far as I can tell, implying that the other side somehow, somewhere isn't on the up and up, is standard practice too, to get reasonable doubt in any way possible.

    This is about as surprising as a spindoctor for a politician saying good things about his candidate during an election, and saying bad things about his opponent..

    it's about reading between the lines (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 05:09:43 PM EST
    of what the lawyer says, and since you don't follow trials, you might not pick it up the clues, but others will. I'm curious about others read into the remarks -- what is being said below the surface.

    One also has to keep in mind (none / 0) (#4)
    by scribe on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 05:17:18 PM EST
    that the DA noted this was the supposed sale (for $2 mil) of a screenplay treatment, then mocked the treatment as being just a single page.

    Either Morgy's naive, slanting his story, or has no clue as to treatments.  But, if you can't pitch a screenplay idea in 15 seconds or less, you don't get heard.  So, I suspect, there's an angle that in the entertainment business, if you can't lay out the idea of your screenplay in less than a page, forget it.  

    That, I suspect, would negate specific intent.

    Also, TL, remember that in NY the ethical limits on what an attorney can say are a lot tighter than in many places;  they also preclude the attorney from disclosing information that, while not confidential, might tend to embarrass the client.  The example I've always seen is this:

    Facts:  Public Figure (a flagrant marry-and-divorce show-biz type) goes to office of Attorney (high-profile divorce attorney) either (a) because Attorney is representing Public Figure or (b) they are considering a representation.  Media, who follow Public Figure like the plague of paparazzi they are, have a rumor that Public Figure is going to get another divorce.  Media get wind of Public Figure's visit to Attorney and call Attorney to confirm rumor that he's representing her (in her divorce).  Divorce rumor might tend to embarrass Public Figure b/c of some reason or another.  

    Rule:  Attorney is not permitted to confirm or deny representation, presence of Public Figure in his office, or any other fact concerning connection with Public Figure which might tend to embarrass Public Figure, absent Public Figure's prior consent.

    So, in this instance, Shargel has to be vague and cagey about exactly what he does and does not say.

    yes (none / 0) (#12)
    by markw on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 07:14:45 PM EST
    Yes, I was thinking it had something to do with sale of a screenplay.  What's illegal about that?

    How about when you use it for blackmail? (none / 0) (#18)
    by nycstray on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 10:42:40 PM EST
    Good question, markw (none / 0) (#24)
    by citizenjeff on Sat Jun 09, 2012 at 04:08:21 PM EST
    Halderman did nothing illegal.

    15 seconds is true (none / 0) (#16)
    by Dadler on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 08:15:50 PM EST
    But no one is spending 2 million for a one-page synopsis (a treatment is technically a much longer document).  On the surface, it seems laughable in the context of this case.  

    Not necesarily. (none / 0) (#20)
    by scribe on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 11:54:38 PM EST
    Suppose - hypothetically speaking - the synopsis says: "I have the rights to [famous person's] life story." or "I have the rights to the story of Dave Letterman as told from the perspective of [former paramour]."

    That would be enough to get a deal going at that price level.  And it surely would fit on a single page.


    No one in Hollywood... (none / 0) (#22)
    by Dadler on Tue Oct 06, 2009 at 05:12:09 PM EST
    ...would pay that kind of money for a one-page anything right now unless it were an outline of the film version of a wildly popular video game or comic book.  Sorry, they just don't pay that much for that kind of thing.  Plus, they know they may end up in litigation over the person's inside story.  I just cannot see that kind of money, or anything like it, anywhere near this case when it comes to a film deal.  

    What legal principle do you have in mind? (none / 0) (#25)
    by citizenjeff on Sat Jun 09, 2012 at 04:17:46 PM EST
    Dadler, it's  not unlawful to ask for more than a product is worth; it's a standard negotiating tactic. As you see it, when is the asking price so high as to be illegal? What's the judicial test that should be applied?

    The real affair... (none / 0) (#10)
    by magster on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 07:08:45 PM EST
    Dave Letterman and Sarah Palin.  Now that would be something....

    STOP IT! (none / 0) (#11)
    by scribe on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 07:12:25 PM EST
    You're making my eyes melt at the mere thought....

    Something to think about ... (none / 0) (#13)
    by ThompsonTOT on Mon Oct 05, 2009 at 07:36:33 PM EST
    I'm not saying I believe these arguments. Maybe I do, maybe I don't ...

    A knows a lot of "information" about B. And A says he will disclose this information to the public unless B pays some money. B agrees. The "information" that A knows is sales and market information. The agreement is called a non-disclosure agreement. A has committed no crime by asking for money to keep the information secret.

    But if the "information" concerns B's sex life, all of a sudden we have a crime. Why? Why is information-based extortion a crime? Why is it a crime to deal in information?

    Isn't information just information?

    Or consider this.

    A and B have sex for money. The sex is taped on video, and sold. This is called pornography and is not a crime.

    But if the sex is not taped on video and therefore is not sold, it is called prostitution and is a crime.

    Isn't sex just sex?