Extortion Conviction Upheld for Lawyer Who Threatened Hair-Cut Pricing Suit
Posted Aug 7, 2009 1:17 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has upheld the extortion conviction of a lawyer who threatened to sue a Concord hair salon for charging women more money for haircuts than men or children.
Daniel Hynes is identified as a Manchester lawyer and a 2006 graduate of the Western New England College School of Law in a story published by the Concord Monitor in March last year. A jury convicted him of theft by extortion after deliberating for only 1 ½ hours. The story quoted Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Baker, who said Hynes had sent letters to at least 19 salons in the state.
The conviction was based on a letter Hynes sent in December 2006 to Claudia’s Signature Salon accusing the shop of violating laws barring gender and age discrimination. The letter demanded $1,000 to avoid litigation and gave the salon owner 10 days to comply, according to the New Hampshire Supreme Court opinion (PDF) issued on Wednesday.
However, Hynes had never visited the salon and did not have a client complaining of discriminatory pricing. As a result, he did not have standing to pursue a claim under the state’s Consumer Protection Act, according to the court.
The salon owner’s husband complained to the attorney general, who sent an investigator posing as a business partner to settlement discussions. Hynes was arrested after agreeing to a $500 settlement.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court said the extortion statute applied to Hynes’ conduct, and the law was not unconstitutionally vague. Hynes’ threat to bring an action that he couldn’t pursue because of the lack of an aggrieved client, along with his demand for a cash payment, made his conduct criminal, the opinion said.
“We also disagree with the defendant’s contention that this interpretation chills an individual’s right of access to the courts,” the court said. “By no means does our holding imply that every demand for money, buttressed by a threat to sue, constitutes extortion. Rather, we are simply denying the defendant’s contention that a threat to sue may never constitute extortion.”
The Nashua Telegraph covered the ruling.