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    Accused Letterman Extortionist: It Was Business, Not Blackmail

    David Letterman, Robert Halderman AP Photo/Evan Agostini; AP Photo/Pool, Marc A. Hermann

    UPDATE: Responding to Halderman's motion to dismiss, prosecutors wrote that the alleged extortionist's "efforts to define and characterize his actions as something legitimate and make the 'deal' appear normal are nothing more than a transparent charade."

    A decision is expected in January.

    "He had intellectual property relating to Letterman's poor conduct," Halderman's attorney, Gerald Shargel, said in response to the filing. "He had the right to sell that intellectual property."
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    If you ask the man accused of trying to blackmail David Letterman, he's the victim of a stupid human trick, nothing more.

    Which explains why the attorney for suspect Robert "Joe" Halderman has asked a New York judge to dismiss his extortion charges, claiming that Halderman's desire to sell the Late Show host a screenplay treatment about Letterman's sexual liaisons amounted to nothing more than a "pure commercial transaction."

     

    In a motion filed today at Halderman's first appearance in a Manhattan court, defense counsel Gerald Shargel asked that the attempted first-degree grand larceny charge against the 48 Hours Mystery man be dropped on the grounds that the case was being driven by "sensationalism" and the grand jury did not have all the facts to indict him.

    "The sensationalism surrounding this indictment, fueled by the celebrity of the purported victim and the deference paid to that celebrity by the district attorney's office, has swallowed the only pertinent issue now before the court," wrote Shargel.

    In fact, Shargel maintains, his client should be applauded, not punished.

    The lawyer insists Halderman heroically uncovered Letterman's workplace affairs that "amounted to actionable sexual harassment."

    Instead, the attorney argues, the Emmy-winning CBS News producer was merely attempting to interest the host in a screenplay and was entrapped. The $2 million asking price was just a market value.

    And what's wrong with a little capitalism?

    "From his quarter century in the business, Halderman knew that. . .books about broken relationships, particularly where the subjects are, as here, well known, had enjoyed tremendous commercial success," the attorney added.

    Considering how all that evidence is actually in Halderman's favor, Shargel made the expected move of asking the judge to toss certain evidence collected by investigators, including photos, personal correspondence, a one-page screenplay synopsis and Halderman's copy of a diary belonging to his ex-girlfriend and Letterman's personal assistant, Stephanie Birkitt, in which she revealed her long-running sexual relationship with the host.

    Court documents indicated that as of the summer of 2009, Halderman learned that Birkitt was still seeing Letterman despite her assurances to the contrary after he caught her being unfaithful. 

    It was at that point that his attorney says he dreamed up the idea for a book and movie based on the  "behind-the-sceness real-life atmostphere and conduct of the Late Show and its host," an American cultural icon.

    Shargel noted that Halderman's actions "were consistent with a pure commercial transaction" and that the "threat," if you can call it that, was that he would continue writing and selling a book and screenplay himself if Letterman didn't buy the story.

    In a press conference after the hearing, Letterman's attorney, David Horowitz, said suggestions that Halderman wasn't out to extort the entertainer is directly contradicted by the facts in the case.

    “Shargel’s attempt to portray Halderman as the victim in this case is to take away from his extortion plan,” he told reporters.  “Halderman’s lawyer tried to describe it as ‘a pure commercial transaction’. It’s classic blackmail no matter how Mr. Halderman’s attorney wants to dress it up."

    Horowitz added that Letterman is "fully prepared to see this case through to the end, including testifying in trial."

    Meanwhile, some of Halderman's CBS colleagues are sticking up for the 51-year-old producer, who is out on $200,000 bail and has been suspended from his job at the network pending the case's resolution.

    Dr. Bob Arnot expressed disbelief that the man he's known for more than a decade might hatch an extortion scheme, and that there should be a presumption of innocence.

    "What is not being talked about...is what really happened between Letterman's lawyer and Joe in those sessions before the one that was taped," Arnot told Good Morning America this morning.

    While Halderman's camp tries to spin its side, the prosecutors argue the case is pretty clear-cut: The twice-divorced producer needed big bucks to keep up with his $6,800 monthly alimony and child support, and the stress from those financial obligations caused him to do something drastic.

    —Additional reporting by Marcus Mulick

    (Originally published Nov. 10, 2009, at 9:32 a.m. PT)

    ________

    Dave's dangerous liaisons are being ripped from the headlines for a popular TV show—find out which one here!

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