Robert Joel Halderman will serve time in jail. (Steve Hirsch / Associated…)
Reporting from New York — A veteran CBS News producer -- whose actions prompted late-night host David Letterman to admit he had had sexual liaisons with members of his staff -- pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempted grand larceny and will go to jail for six months.
The deal accepted by Robert Joel Halderman brought to a close an embarrassing chapter for Letterman, whose on-air confession in the fall triggered scrutiny of his behavior behind the scenes.
Halderman, whose former girlfriend was a longtime assistant to the late-night comedian, was accused of demanding $2 million in exchange for a screenplay treatment he wrote about affairs Letterman had had with female employees.
He pleaded guilty to one count of attempted grand larceny in the second degree, accepting a six-month jail term and 4 1/2 years' probation. He was also ordered to serve 1,000 hours of community service. As part of the deal, he will be prohibited from contacting Letterman for five years. "I feel great remorse for what I've done," Halderman said in court, wearing a serious expression.
On his show Tuesday night, Letterman said the episode had made him "full of anxiety and nervous and worried." He praised the Manhattan district attorney's office and New York Police Department for handling the situation "professionally, skillfully and appropriately."
Halderman concocted his plan after discovering that his girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt, Letterman's longtime assistant, was also involved romantically with the comedian, according to court filings.
Furious about the affair, Halderman wrote a proposed screenplay about Letterman's off-screen behavior and tried to sell it to the host, a move that he admitted in court "was just a thinly veiled threat to ruin Mr. Letterman if he did not pay me a lot of money."
Letterman revealed the episode on the air, sparking a furor. But the scandal quickly faded as his personal woes were overshadowed by NBC's late-night debacle with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.
Until recently, defense attorney Gerald Shargel had said Halderman would fight the charge at trial. He said he planned to introduce evidence that the late-night host committed sexual harassment, something vigorously disputed by Letterman's representatives.
But on Tuesday, Halderman apologized to Letterman and Birkitt and their families, along with "everyone else that I have hurt or disappointed."
In brief comments outside the courthouse, Shargel said Halderman accepted the deal to put the matter behind him. The Emmy-award winning producer, who is no longer employed by CBS News, will be sentenced May 4. "This is a serious sentence that properly reflects the crimes that Mr. Halderman has now admitted that he committed and is a fitting end to the case," said Daniel J. Horwitz, an attorney for Letterman.