Court of Appeals weighs scope of extortion law

Court Watch Posted on

A lawyer for the state came under sharp attack from several Court of Appeals judges when he urged them to reinstate the extortion conviction of a man who sent expletive-laden letters to a former boss and his attorney, threatening to sue them unless they paid him $100,000.

Assistant Attorney General Brian S. Kleinbord said Scott L. Rendelman’s letters constituted extortion because the grounds for his threatened lawsuit were “baseless” and the written messages were a “threat to obtain something of value to which [he] is not otherwise entitled.”

A Montgomery County jury had convicted Rendelman of trying to extort money from William Elmhirst and attorney Kevin P. Fay, but the Court of Special Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that a threat to sue, unlike a threat of bodily harm, is not evidence of extortion.

Three of the seven judges hearing the matter on Thursday — retired Judges Alan M. Wilner, Lawrence F. Rodowsky and Dale R. Cathell — echoed that reasoning.

Click to download the Webcast of the State of Maryland v. Scott L. Rendelman

Extending the crime of extortion to include threats of litigation might discourage individuals and their lawyers from validly informing an opponent that they might file suit, lest they find themselves in criminal court, the judges said.

By contrast, all seven were largely silent as Rendelman’s lawyer, Karen C. Daly of Washington, said prosecutors go too far when they charge with extortion a person proclaiming his or her legal right to sue – even if vulgarly expressed.

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