Legal Ethics

Was well-known lawyer's demand letter 'extortion'? Appeals court to hear arguments on judge's ruling

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A well-known Southern California lawyer is famous for his menacing legal threats sent on behalf of celebrity clients.

But attorney Martin D. “Marty” Singer crossed the line into making an “extortion” attempt in 2011 when he sent a demand letter to a client’s business partner, a state-court judge ruled after the recipient sued over the missive. In addition to demanding a forensic accounting and the return of money that allegedly had been embezzled, Singer also threatened in the letter, which attached a copy of a draft civil complaint, to reveal information about the partner’s claimed use of company resources for “sexual liasons,” recounts the Hollywood Reporter.

“I have deliberately left blank spaces in portions of the complaint dealing with your using company resources to arrange sexual liaisons with —————— ,” says Singer’s letter. “When the complaint is filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court, there will be no blanks in the pleading.”

After the recipient sued Singer and his client, the judge in that case focused on the lawyer’s threat to reveal information about sex partners. She said the “letter is best read as extortion as a matter of law,” describing the “allegations of sexual misconduct contained in the demand letter” as “very tangential.”

Singer appealed, and on Thursday his counsel is expected to argue before the state Court of Appeal concerning what he and organizations including the Beverly Hills Bar Association and the American Civil Liberties Union describe as an infringement on the free-speech rights of potential litigants and their lawyers.

“We remain confident in prevailing in this litigation because, under the trial court’s analysis, virtually all pre-litigation demand letters routinely sent by attorneys throughout the state would constitute extortion,” attorney Jeremy Rosen, who represents Singer, tells the Hollywood Reporter.

A copy of the briefing on Singer’s side includes additional arguments.

Attorney Barry P. King represents the recipient of Singer’s demand letter, who points out that there are some limits to what a lawyer can say in a demand letter and argues in his briefing that a threat to reveal sexual misconduct should be included in the same category as a threat of physical violence or a threat to file a false police report.

Singer attempts to “hide behind the litigation privilege” by contending that “anything that an attorney puts into a ‘demand letter’ constitutes ‘protected speech’ … no matter how egregious, or how unrelated the statement (threat) may be to the actual basis of the dispute,” the letter recipient contends in his filing.

See also:

California SLAPP Law: “Lawyer Demand Letter Found to Step Over the Line”

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