Legal experts say David Letterman's frank admission that he'd had sex with female employees of his show creates the possibility that female workers for his company could surface and create legal troubles for the late-night star.
Letterman made his revelation during his "Late Show with David Letterman" Thursday night, telling audience members and viewers about what authorities say was a plot hatched by longtime CBS News producer Robert Joel Halderman (who's known as Joe) to try to extort $2 million from the star.
Halderman, 51,. He posted $200,000 bond and was released.
Authorities say Halderman demanded the money to keep him from going public with proof he claimed to have that Letterman had engaged in the sexual relationships, and was given a phony $2 million check. Officials add they have a tape of Halderman negotiating with Lettermen's lawyer.
Letterman, 62, married his longtime girlfriend, Regina Lasko, in March. They'd been dating for two decades and have a six-year-old son.
The New York Times reports that, "A central figure in the case - one of the women who did have a sexual relationship with Mr. Letterman, according to representatives of the show - is Mr. Letterman's longtime personal assistant, Stephanie Birkitt, 34, who also often appeared on the air. The sexual relationships had ended before Mr. Letterman was married in March, a Worldwide Pants (Letterman's company) executive said."
The Times adds that Halderman lived with Birkitt in Connecticut until last month.
There are reports Halderman, an Emmy Award-winning producer for the CBS News true-crime broadcast "48 Hours: Mystery", made $214,000 in 2007 but is obligated to pay $6,800 a month in spousal and child support to his ex-wife.
"The question (for Letterman)," criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman observed to "Early Show Saturday Edition" co-anchor Erica Hill, "is how many other shoes are gonna drop? Are any women going to come forward who are gonna say negative things about him - that they were coerced or intimidated, that there's a quid pro quo kind of thing? That's the only really negative thing that's gonna happen, perhaps, to David Letterman, is if ... other women come forward and say something negative."
Worldwide Pants says Letterman hasn't violated any of its employee conduct policies, and CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom told Hill, "His company is correct that there is no sexual harassment case, unless somebody brings a claim. And if nobody's brought a claim, then they're in the clear.
"The problem for Worldwide Pants and Letterman is that ... it's quite possible that there are employees who were not aware that David Letterman was engaged in sexual behavior with ... staff members and, under sexual harassment law, there is a claim for sexual harassment, somebody can come forward and say. 'The boss was sleeping with other employees, they got favors and advantages that I didn't get.' They got to appear on the show, perhaps, for example. Got additional payments for that.
"So, this is why every company in the United States has a policy that an employer should not be having sexual relations with a subordinate, because it has the potential to create a hostile work environment. I want to emphasize here that (as far as we know so far) it's all consenting adults, nobody has raised a claim, but there's always that issue lingering out there."
Bloom and Sherman agreed, in their separate interviews, that they were amazed at Halderman's alleged actions and that his lawyer, Gerald Shargel, has the chips stacked against him.
Shargel, says Sherman, is "one of the best, if not the best criminal lawyers in New York City, so he's gotta have something, ammunition-wise. ... The key ... is the videotape they (authorities say they) have and the check that (prosecutors say) was given to (Halderman) and deposited in a bank. They've chronicled this the best you probably can."
As a defense lawyer, Sherman continued, "You're certainly coming from behind the eight ball, but if anybody can do it, Gerry can pull it off, or at least make a palatable (plea) deal. It's not a crime of violence, he's (Halderman) a first-(time) offender (allegedly), he's not insane, but is clearly a little bit deranged and incredibly stupid."
Bloom called Halderman's alleged actions "almost laughable. Those of us who cover crime stories for a living often joke that we know how to commit the perfect crime. Well, if these allegations are true, this defendant was way off-base. And especially by (authorities say) asking for a check with his name on it that he then went and deposited? Certainly, cash might have been a better idea. An investigative journalist goes for meetings with lawyers and doesn't think about the possibility that he might get taped in those meetings? It's really astounding, if these allegations are true, how weak this extortion attempt really was."
"Given that (according to prosecutors) there's this $2 million check that was given to him by Letterman that he deposited in the bank," Bloom pointed out, "the defense is going to have on come up with some plausible, legal explanation as to why he would do that. Perhaps it's in exchange for selling a screenplay, exchange for settling a claim. I'm only speculating, but it's very hard to see how the defense is going to explain that.
"The other possibility, that's present in every case, is some kind of diminished capacity or insanity defense - he just lost his girlfriend. He was in financial distress. But, given that this is an Emmy Award-winning producer, a highly-intelligent person who seems to have calculated the whole thing, it doesn't seem to me like that would fly, either."