Friday, May 9, 2008

Threat Of Litigation Not A Criminal Offense

In an appeal of a conviction for extortion, the Maryland Court of Appeals held a threat to pursue a legal action unless a settlement payment is made does not constitute extortion by wrongful threat of economic harm. The court's summary of its holding states;

There are no criminal sanctions for the initiation or continuation of frivolous civil actions under Maryland law; therefore, a threat to litigate a meritless cause of action cannot constitute a "wrongful" act under Maryland law.

The defendant had accused another person by letter of "stealing $22,000 from him and demanded damages plus interest compounded at nine percent." The letter was addressed to "you filthy [expletives] and is quoted in full in the opinion: "We have taken the liberty of redacting the profanity contained in the letter." The defendant had been an employee of the recipient and was convicted of embezzlement of company funds. The sender "waited 20 years to write this letter. It was December 24, 1984, almost exactly 20 years ago, when you froze my bank accounts, ruined my Christmas with my family, and started a process that would put me in prison for 17 years."

While the addressee never got the letter, a copy had been sent to his attorney ("I'm sending a copy of this letter to [the lawyer]. I may sue him too for being a [expletive] piece of [expletive]." The lawyer brought to matter to the attention of law enforcement authorities. (Mike Frisch)

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