Settlement Demands Have Their Risks
Fifteen months ago, Daniel Hynes of Manchester told a Concord hair salon to pay him $1,000 or face a lawsuit because its different prices for men and women were discriminatory. In one court document, he said the unequal prices at Claudia Lambert's salon caused him mental anguish. That's even though the salon charged women more than men.
Well, how is a young lawyer supposed to make a living when he's got no clients and needs a haircut?
Unfortunately, a jury was unimpressed by Hynes' career move, and convicted him of misdemeanor theft by extortion.
Hynes, apparently relying on his vast legal experience, disagreed with the jury.
"The conviction goes against the First Amendment," he said. "People have a right to petition the courts."
It's unclear which 1st Amendment rights he's talking about, since sending out demand letters is a little different than petitioning a court for redress.
But he does have a point about lawyers sending out letters to people or businesses who, they believe, are doing something actionable and trying to settle.
Where do we draw the line? People often feel the "lawyer letter," that demand that you pay money "or else" or stop doing something "or else," is extortionate. After all, the express threat is "pay me or pay to go to court and then pay me." There's certainly something extortionate there.
The question deepens when it's no longer a matter of threatening to take someone to court if they don't settle a claim, but when it reaches the point of becoming a crime. Does it turn on the lawyer's good faith? Does it turn on whether the claim has a reasonable basis in law?
Bear in mind that there are claims brought to lawyers that ultimately turn out to be frivolous or baseless, but lawyers pursue them because they seem colorable at the time. There's a huge difference between the claim being shot out of the water for being frivolous and the lawyer being convicted of a crime for pursuing it.
Mr. Hynes was a busy fellow.
Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Baker said Hynes sent letters to at least 19 salons in the state. The one to Claudia's said haircut prices should be based on the time required or the length of the customer's hair, not gender.
My guess is that 19 letters is probably over the line. But a conviction for extortion? That's a bit much too.
Addendum: For anyone inclined to comment, please read this first and leave your comments.
4/1/2008 5:36 AM
Simple Justice wrote:
While directed primarily at civil litigators, particularly personal injury lawyers, two posts,
3/27/2008 11:16 AM
Simple Justice wrote:
There's been a lot of attention to
3/25/2008 8:31 PM
Scott Greenfield: Daniel Hynes was a newly minted lawyer, only one month in, when he apparently came up with a bright idea, according to this report in the New York Lawyer. Fifteen months ago, Daniel Hynes of Manchester told a Concord hair salon to pay him $1,000 or face a lawsuit because its different prices for men and women were discriminatory. In one court document, he said the unequal prices at Claudia Lambert's salon caused him mental anguish. That's even though the salon charged…
3/26/2008 9:03 AM
Now this could crimp the business plans of quite a few attorneys:A Manchester lawyer who threatened to sue a Concord salon for pricing haircuts differently for men and women and then took money to settle...