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Roberts sextortion

August 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 7, 2013

  • 7th Circuit cites Rumpelstiltskin; quashes plaintiff’s bid to turn straw to gold [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • “One of the most prolific writers and tweeters in the online legal world. A must read.” Thanks Jim D. [Abnormal Use, and his suggestion about ABA best-blawg nominations is worth heeding]
  • “… as if compliance departments actually are associated with law-abiding behavior…” [Ira Stoll]
  • Sex extortion lawyer Mary Roberts won’t have to pay restitution [MySanAntonio, background]
  • Guess who’s the big new lobby fighting marijuana legalization? Medical-pot providers [Politico]
  • “Woman awarded $775,000 after tripping on speed bump at a Vegas casino” [Calgary Herald]
  • Some thoughts on “libertarian populism” [Jesse Walker, Josh Barro/Tim Carney]

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More legal consequences of the lurid Texas “Internet paramour extortion scheme” (as the ABA Journal calls it); Above the Law; earlier. Among highlights of the saga: testimony for the lawyer-husband at his criminal trial from a former bar president who said Ted Roberts was just behaving as lawyers do when he sent demand letters to his wife’s lovers under threat of exposing them in legal action (“litigation is coercive”); and an unsuccessful libel suit against the San Antonio Express-News, which had reported on the couple’s doings.

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March 24 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 24, 2010

  • Jury orders Dutchess County, N.Y. school district to pay $1.25 million for not adequately addressing classmate harassment of “very dark skinned” half-Latino student; district protests that it had extensively pursued diversity/sensitivity programs [Poughkeepsie Journal]
  • More unwisdom: “Oklahoma House of Representatives Proposes Ban on Use of Foreign Law in Oklahoma Courts” [Volokh, earlier on Arizona bill]
  • Update: California environment czars won’t ban black cars, but watch out for what reflective-layer window mandates might do to cellphones and tollgate transponders [ShopFloor, earlier]
  • “Firm Sanctioned for ‘Perfect Storm’ of Improper Practices in Debt Collection” [NYLJ]
  • Critic of lie detector technology says U.K. libel law has silenced him [Times Online] Science journalist Simon Singh says fighting chiropractors’ libel suit is so draining that he’s quitting his column for the Guardian [Guardian, Citizen Media Law]
  • Florida: father who lost wife, son in murder/suicide at gun range drops lawsuit against the store [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Appeals court declines to overturn Mary Roberts sextortion conviction [MySanAntonio.com, opinion, related, earlier]
  • Corporation for Public Newspapering? Stimulus bucks go to “public-interest investigative journalism” [SFWeekly]

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January 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 8, 2010

  • Pa. cash-for-kids judge allegedly came up with number of months for length of sentence based on how many birds could be seen out his office window [Legal Ethics Forum, with notes on ornithomancy or bird divination through history]; “The Pa. Judicial Scandal: A Closer Look at the Victims” [WSJ Law Blog on Philadelphia Inquirer report]; feds charge third county judge with fraud [Legal Intelligencer, more]; state high court overturns convictions of 6,500 kids who appeared before Ciavarella and Conahan [Greenfield]; judge orders new trial in Ciavarella’s eyebrow-raising $3.5 million defamation verdict against Citizens’ Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre; some web resources on scandal [Sullum, scroll to end]
  • Says drinking was part of her job: “Stripper’s DUI Case Survives Club’s Latest Attack” [OnPoint News, earlier]
  • Hundreds of lawyers rally to protest Sheriff Arpaio, DA Thomas [Coyote, Greenfield, ABA Journal, Mark Bennett interview with Phoenix attorney Jim Belanger, earlier here, here, and here]. In deposition, Arpaio says he hasn’t read book he co-authored in 2008 on immigration [Balko, Coyote] And as I mentioned a while back, Maricopa D.A. Andrew Thomas turns out to be the very same person as the Andrew Peyton Thomas toward whom I was uncharitable in this Reason piece quite a while back.
  • Ted Roberts, of the famous sex-extortion case, begins serving five-year term [AP/Dallas News, KENS]
  • New Hampshire lawsuit over leak of documents to mortgage gadfly site raises First Amendment issues [Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • Did someone say paid witness? Judge tosses decade-old animal rights case vs. Ringling circus [Orlando Sentinel, Zincavage] Bonus: Ron Coleman, Likelihood of Confusion, on PETA and Michelle Obama;
  • How’d foreclosure tax get into Connecticut budget when both parties claimed to oppose it? [Ct. News Junkie]
  • Best-legal-blog picks of Ryan Perlin, who writes “Generation J.D.” for the Maryland Daily Record, include one that’s “humorous though sometimes disheartening”, while La Roxy at Daily Asker salutes a certain website as “Lurid, i.e. satisfying”. Thanks!

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October 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 9, 2008

  • Appeals court upholds Ted Roberts “sextortion” conviction [Bashman with lots of links, San Antonio Express-News]
  • Alito incredulous at FTC: you guys have failed to raise a peep about bogus tar & nicotine numbers for how long? [PoL]
  • Please, Mr. Pandit, do the country a favor and don’t litigate Citigroup’s rights to the utmost in the Wachovia-Wells Fargo affair [Jenkins, WSJ]
  • Docblogger Westby Fisher, hit with expensive subpoena over contents of his comments section, wonders whether it’s worth it to go on blogging [Dr. Wes, earlier]
  • “Title IX and Athletics: A Primer”, critical study for Independent Women’s Forum [Kasic/Schuld, PDF; my two cents]
  • Case of whale-bothering Navy sonar, often covered in this space, argued before high court [FoxNews.com]
  • More on Kentucky’s efforts to seize Internet domain names of online gambling providers [WaPo, earlier]
  • Exposure to pigeon droppings at Iraq ammo warehouse doesn’t seem to have affected worker’s health, but it was disgusting and she’s filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against private contractor for big bucks [St. Petersburg Times, Patricia Howard, USA Environmental; but see comment taking issue]

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December 7 roundup

by Ted Frank on December 7, 2007

  • Speaking of privacy, consider what happens when lawyers get a hold of your email. (When will we see law professors eager to create new causes of action consider the privacy-destroying implications of ediscovery?) [Fulton County Daily Report/law.com; Toronto Globe & Mail; Point of Law] Earlier: Jan. 9 and links therein.
  • Speaking of privacy and reputation, Mary Roberts goes to trial, but Above the Law doesn’t mention our coverage (June 2004; Sep. 2005; Feb. 6; Mar. 19; May 17), and misses the juicy details.
  • Oy: “Woman who ‘lost count after drinking 14 vodkas’ awarded £7,000 over New Year fall from bridge.” News from the compensation culture not entirely bad: damages were reasonable, and the court did hold the woman 80% responsible, the exact opposite of the McDonald’s coffee case. [Scotsman.com]
  • No good deed goes unpunished: Sperm donor liable for child support, judge rules. [Newsday/Seattle Times]
  • Bad attorney gets fired, sues DLA Piper for discrimination, represents herself pro se, demonstrates firsthand why she got fired: law firm wins on summary judgment. [ABA Journal; update: also New York Law Journal]
  • Romney on tort reform; McCain on medmal. [Torts Prof Blog; Torts Prof Blog]
  • Another day, another Borat lawsuit. I’m still waiting for the consumer fraud lawsuit from moviegoers upset that it was not actually a Kazakh documentary. [Reuters; earlier]

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How pathetic is the State Bar of Texas when it comes to protecting clients from rogue lawyers? This pathetic:

Dallas attorney Bruce Patton has a clean disciplinary record, according to the State Bar’s Web site, which provides profiles of the state’s 80,000 or more practicing attorneys. But consider this before you hire him to draft your will: Patton is in state prison after being convicted of a felony two years ago….

The Texas Legislature and Supreme Court, which share a role in establishing ethics rules for attorneys, have made it so that the public stays in the dark about thousands of lawyers accused of misconduct. Bar confidentiality rules ensure that many sanctions are private and that lawyers accused of felonies can continue practicing. The Bar doesn’t require attorneys to report their criminal record or malpractice suits.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s disturbing investigation goes into considerable detail, and mentions a couple of cases that will be familiar to readers of this site: “San Antonio attorney Ted Roberts, charged with stealing $100,000 from his wife’s lovers, was recently convicted, two years after being indicted. He faces a five-year sentence. The Bar didn’t suspend him until June and is now recommending disbarment.” And: “The firm of John O’Quinn, one of the state’s wealthiest personal-injury lawyers, was ordered by an arbitration panel this summer to pay $35 million to former clients who say he overbilled them for expenses, but no mention of that order is on the Bar’s Web site.” (Yamil Berard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 19; “Panel seeks changes in Bar’s disciplinary system for lawyers”, Aug. 19). More: GruntDoc wonders whether doctors can expect a similar concern for confidentiality.

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June 11 roundup

by Ted Frank on June 11, 2007

Updating earlier stories:

  • The Judge Pearson consumer fraud suit starts today. It’s exceedingly silly, but ATLA’s attack on Judge Pearson is hypocritical: the only difference between this consumer fraud suit and the consumer fraud suits ATLA supports is that it’s an African-American pro se going against a shallow pocket instead of a well-funded bunch of millionaires going against a deep pocket. The Fisher blog @ WaPo notes a publicity-stunt settlement offer. [via TaxProf blog]
  • Wesley Snipes playing the race card in his tax evasion prosecution would have more resonance if his white co-defendant weren’t still in jail while he’s out on bail. [Tax Prof; earlier, Nov. 22]
  • “Party mom host set for Virginia jail term” for daring to ensure high school students didn’t drink and drive by providing a safe haven for underage drinking. Earlier: June 2005. [WaPo]
  • Sorry, schadenfreude fans: Fred Baron settles with Baron & Budd. [Texas Lawyer; earlier Sep. 4]
  • Blackmail-through-civil discovery lawyer Ted Roberts (Mar. 19 and links therein) seeks new trial. [Texas Lawyer]
  • Second Circuit doesn’t quite yet decide Ehrenfeld v. Bin Mahfouz libel tourism suit (Oct. 2003). [Bashman roundup of links]
  • NFL drops claims to trademarking “The Big Game” as a euphemism for the trademarked “Super Bowl” (Jan. 31) [Lattman]
  • More on the Supreme Court’s “fake mental retardation to get out of the death penalty” decision, Atkins v. Virginia (Feb. 2005; Sep. 2003). [LA Times]
  • What does Overlawyered favorite Rex deGeorge (Sep. 2004) have to do with The Apprentice? [Real Estalker]

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Updates – May 17

by David Nieporent on May 17, 2007

Updating a few of the earlier stories covered around here:

  • Maybe it’s not so gay after all: Rebekah Rice, the California high school student who sued her school after they disciplined her for saying “That’s so gay,” has lost her lawsuit.

    “All of us have probably felt at some time that we were unfairly punished by a callous teacher, or picked on and teased by boorish and uncaring bullies. Unfortunately, this is part of what teenagers endure in becoming adults,” the judge wrote in a 20-page ruling. “The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings.”

    Moreover, the judge picked up on the same irony we noted when we first covered the story:

    “If the Rice family had not told everyone that Rebekah had been given a referral for saying ‘That’s so gay’ then no one else would have know it either, and she would not have been referred to as the ‘That’s so gay girl,'” the judge wrote.

    (Update to the update: Matthew Heller has the opinion.)

  • Contrary to what we had speculated, it appears that Pants Judge Roy Pearson still has a job and may continue to do so. According to an unnamed D.C. official, and exemplifying the attitude with which the tort reform movement is fighting, “I don’t think it’s appropriate not to reappoint someone just because they file a lawsuit. You can’t retaliate against someone for exercising their constitutional, First Amendment right to file a lawsuit to vindicate their rights.” (No, but you can retaliate against someone for filing a frivolous lawsuit.) Meanwhile, as a face-saving publicity stunt, the American Trial Lawyers Association filed an ethics complaint against Pearson; really, Pearson isn’t doing anything that ATLA doesn’t endorse in other situations.
  • Remember Ted and Mary Roberts, the husband-and-wife team of San Antonio lawyers who hatched a blackmail scheme in which the wife had sex with married men and the husband threatened to sue them unless they paid him to keep quiet? (Ted’s been convicted; Mary is awaiting trial.) The bankruptcy trustee, acting on behalf of their estate, had sued the local San Antonio Express News for violating their privacy by reporting on their scheme; Howard Bashman reports that the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit by a lower court. So the newspaper won a complete legal victory — but truthfully reporting on a criminal scheme by prominent lawyers nevertheless must have cost them six figures’ worth of legal expenses.
  • O.J. Simpson will not be suing the Kentucky steakhouse that wouldn’t serve him. His lawyer — the one who rushed to announce that O.J. was a victim and that the steakhouse “screwed with the wrong guy” — now tries to blame the owner for “using the episode for publicity.” (Originally, May 10.)
  • The bogus Equal vs. Splenda unfair competition lawsuit (Mar. 8) over Splenda’s “Made From Sugar, So It Tastes Like Sugar” slogan settled on undisclosed terms, moments before a jury announced its verdict. Although we don’t know the terms of the settlement, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the non-monetary part: just check whether Splenda changes its advertising.

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Many commentators over the years have compared litigation to extortion. In Texas, it turns out that there’s at least some line between the two. Last week, San Antonio attorney Ted Roberts was convicted on three of five counts of theft for his role in a blackmail scheme. The scheme — previously discussed on Overlawyered in Jun. 2004 , Sep. 2005, and Feb. 2007 — involved having his wife, Mary, pick up married men on the internet, have sex with them, and then threaten to sue them (and reveal their sexual activities) for ruining his marriage unless they paid him big sums of money.

If you think that’s low, consider that Roberts falsely told his victims that the money they paid would go to a charity; he instead spent almost all of the money on a new $635,000 home. It was that fact that apparently convinced the jury, which didn’t have much sympathy for the adulterous men, to vote to convict.

It might sound unconscionable to normal people, but Roberts had found someone to defend him:

Support for the accused Ted H. Roberts and for his creative response to his wife Mary’s adultery came from an accomplished fellow attorney with more than 44 years’ experience, including a term as president of the State Bar of Texas.

Testifying for the defense, Broadus A. Spivey voiced no qualms about the way Roberts extracted $155,000 from four of his wife’s lovers by threatening to file litigation that would embarrass them and alert their wives and employers to their infidelities.

“Litigation is coercive,” Spivey explained to jurors. “That’s part of the nature of the beast.”

The seasoned lawyer offered a voice of experience, and the defense took care to note for jurors his multiple board certifications, awards and various distinctions.

Spivey might not quite be an impartial witness, though; he represents the Roberts duo in their civil lawsuit against the newspaper that first reported their scheme.

Still to come: the trial of Roberts’ wife on the same charges.

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We first covered the case of Ted H. and Mary Schorlemer Roberts Jun. 13, 2004 and Sep. 3, 2005:

According to a story in the San Antonio Express-News, husband-and-wife legal partners Ted H. and Mary Schorlemer Roberts received money in a curious sequence of events. Mary, claiming to seek “no strings” discreet encounters, would seduce men over an Internet dating service. Ted would then write the men (in legal documents sometimes typed by Mary) and notify them that he planned to seek intrusive and public civil discovery to investigate whether the affair brought forward potential causes of action that were flimsy at best; the men would pay tens of thousands of dollars for a release and confidentiality agreement.

Now:

Two San Antonio, Texas, lawyers, married to each other, face a trial on theft charges based on allegations that the wife had sexual liaisons with four men whom the husband subsequently threatened with litigation unless they compensated him for his emotional distress.

You’ll never guess how the Roberts’ lawyer defends them:

[Michael] McCrum contends the state is trying to prosecute his clients for something that civil lawyers do all the time — send demand letters and present petitions they plan to file under Rule 202.

“By stretching statutory words to an unprecedented interpretation, the state seeks to criminalize as “theft the presentment and subsequent settlement of potential claims authorized under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure,” Mary and Ted Roberts alleged in one of several motions to quash their indictments that Harle dismissed in October 2006. …

[Baker Botts attorney Rod] Phelan says there is “a kernel of truth” in the point that McCrum is making. “The line between extortion or blackmail and making a demand to settle a colorable claim is gray,” he says.

The prosecutor distinguishes the two by noting that Ted Roberts was acting pro se. (Mary Alice Robbins, “Married Lawyers Face Trial for Payment Demands After Wife’s Affairs”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 6). Note that these are theft, rather than extortion charges, however; a stretch, to be sure, but the prosecutors decided that Texas law does permit extortion in these circumstances. (It does seem rather appalling under the prosecutors’ view that the only thing Roberts needed to accomplish his blackmail is to expand the conspiracy to a third person.) Unfortunately for the extortion victims, their identities were revealed by the indictment and the Texas Lawyer coverage. A job for ReputationDefender?

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We reported June 13, 2004:

According to a story in the San Antonio Express-News, husband-and-wife legal partners Ted H. and Mary Schorlemer Roberts received money in a curious sequence of events. Mary, claiming to seek “no strings” discreet encounters, would seduce men over an Internet dating service. Ted would then write the men (in legal documents sometimes typed by Mary) and notify them that he planned to seek intrusive and public civil discovery to investigate whether the affair brought forward potential causes of action that were flimsy at best; the men would pay tens of thousands of dollars for a release and confidentiality agreement.

The Roberts couple’s bankruptcy trustee has since sued the Express-News over the story, on the theory that it “invaded their privacy, inflicted emotional distress and drove them into bankruptcy.” But a Texas grand jury has voted to indict the two on three charges of “theft” (which, in Texas, encompasses extortion); the FBI decided that federal charges weren’t possible. The Roberts couple’s attorney predicts they’ll be exonerated. “You can rest assured that I believe that lawyers are held to the same standards as everyone else in the community,” Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed said. “The law doesn’t carve out the word ‘lawyer'” for special protection.” (Maro Robbins and Joseph S. Stroud, “Pair facing extortion indictment”, San Antonio Express-News, Sep. 1). The story does not detail what happened to the Roberts’ former partner, Robert V. West III, who originally brought the allegations to light; in return, the Roberts sued him and the Texas bar chose to investigate West rather than the Roberts.

The old Curmudgeonly Clerk weblog explored the legal legitimacy of the underlying Roberts lawsuits back in 2004.

In the original story, the newspaper asked Texas law professor and legal ethics specialist John Dzienkowski if legal ethics prohibited the Roberts’ tactics. “In the spectrum of Rambo litigation, and in the spectrum of trying to push people a little bit, just sending that piece of paper is probably on the mild side,” said Dzienkowski. “That’s why ethically I don’t really see a problem with it.” But who says reform of the legal profession is needed?

According to a story in the San Antonio Express-News, husband-and-wife legal partners Ted H. and Mary Schorlemer Roberts received money in a curious sequence of events. Mary, claiming to seek “no strings” discreet encounters, would seduce men over an Internet dating service. Ted would then write the men (in legal documents sometimes typed by Mary) and notify them that he planned to seek intrusive and public civil discovery to investigate whether the affair brought forward potential causes of action that were flimsy at best; the men would pay tens of thousands of dollars for a release and confidentiality agreement. (As the law firm’s web site puts it, “We believe in a team approach.”) Because of Texas’s permissive legal ethical rules, prosecutors decided they couldn’t pursue extortion charges; state law permits Roberts to bring “creative” claims and to take discovery in advance of filing a lawsuit, and the prosecution had no way of proving that Roberts’s intent in submitting the documents was a bluff rather than a “legitimate” lawsuit.

The newspaper found out only because another lawyer, Robert V. West III, sought to raise the scheme as part of a separate business dispute with the Roberts; fans of poetic justice will note that the Roberts accuse West of blackmail, and brought disciplinary charges against West and his lawyer to the state bar. The bar is investigating West, but, apparently, not the Roberts. Everyone involved denies any wrongdoing. Roberts unsuccessfully brought suit to prevent publication of the story, but the court records remain sealed. (Maro Robbins and Joseph S. Stroud, Jun. 13) (via Bashman).

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