Legal Ethics

Lawyer Accused of Using Topless Photos as Leverage Is Shielded from Liability, Appeals Court Says

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A New York appeals court has ruled that a lawyer has no liability for using topless photos as leverage in his client’s sexual harassment suit against the president of a hedge fund.

The court sided with lawyer Thomas Wigdor of Thompson Wigdor & Gilly, who represented the hedge fund leader’s former assistant, Danielle Pecile, Thomson Reuters News & Insight reports.

The suit claiming emotional distress and conversion was filed by the woman pictured in the photos, the wife of the hedge fund manager. Allegations that Wigdor knew the photos had been stolen are “wholly conclusory,” according to the opinion by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.

The appeals court said Wigdor is immune from liability “under the shield afforded attorneys in advising their clients, even when such advice is erroneous, in the absence of fraud, collusion, malice or bad faith. … If the shield does not deflect these allegations, it is so flimsy as to be of little use.”

The court did, however, overturn a $1,000 award of sanctions to Wigdor and his law firm for what it viewed as frivolous claim by the plaintiff.

Wigdor was accused of telling Pecile’s boss, Titan Capital president Russell Abrams, that his client had topless photos of Abrams’ wife, obtained when Abrams asked Pecile to make prints of the photos on two compact discs. Pecile has alleged she was appalled to see the photos, and when she gave them to Abrams he smirked and asked if she liked them, according to a prior account of the case by the New York Law Journal. She had cited the photo incident in her pending sexual harassment claim.

Wigdor allegedly informed Abrams he was being accused of sexual harassment by Pecile and another woman, a law student, but they would waive the claims and return the photos for $2.5 million. Abrams demanded Wigdor return the photos, but the lawyer refused, claiming they were evidence of wrongdoing.

Abrams’ wife was represented by Epstein Becker & Green.

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.

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