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State v. Harrington

Vermont Supreme Court
260 A.2d 692 (1969)


Facts

John Harrington (defendant) was an attorney retained by Norma Morin to obtain a divorce from her husband, Armand Morin. Because Norma was unable to pay, Harrington agreed to work on a contingent fee basis. The Morins had assets worth about $50,000, including a motel in New Hampshire. Harrington and Norma hired a woman armed with a tape recorder, to entice Armand into having sex in one of his motel rooms. The woman succeeded and at the opportune moment, Harrington and his associates entered the hotel room and took pictures of the naked pair in bed. Thereafter, Harrington dictated a letter to Armand proposing a divorce settlement where Norma would give up her interest in the marital assets and would waive alimony in exchange for a lump sum of $175,000. The letter also stated that if he agreed to the proposal, Armand would receive the tape recording and the pictures taken of his infidelity. Harrington noted that if Armand did not timely respond to his letter, the offer would be withdrawn and not only would they produce the tape recordings and photos during divorce proceedings on the ground of adultery, Harrington said he might advise Norma to file for “informer fees” with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Customs Service regarding illegal conduct in which Armand was engaged. Harrington included one of the photos taken of Armand and the woman from the hotel room. Harrington was convicted under a Vermont law which stated, “a person who maliciously threatens to accuse another of a crime or offense, or with an injury to his person or property, with intent to extort money or other pecuniary advantage, or with intent to compel the person so threatened to do an act against his will, shall be imprisoned in the state prison not more than two years or fined not more than $500.00.” Harrington appealed, filing a motion for acquittal.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Holden, C.J.)

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