Jeri Hogarth on AKA Jessica Jones was the poster child for everything horrible with attorneys. She bribed a juror at the beginning of her career, was having an affair with her secretary Pam, and was ethically challenged in arguably acting against the best interests of her client Hope with the press. Then there is the entire issue of secretly taking the aborted fetus of her client for experimentation. Some lawyers own restaurants on the side; Jeri apparently did bio-medical research.

Jeri’s wife Wendy sought a divorce from Jeri, likely based on Jeri’s adultery with Pam. Adultery is one of the specifically enumerated reasons for a divorce under New York law. NY CLS Dom Rel § 170(4).

Wendy demanded as a divorce settlement to have first 75% of Jeri’s income, and then ultimately 90%, in exchange for not disclosing old emails that contained evidence of Jeri’s jury tempering to the New York State Bar, which would result in immediate disbarment for Jeri upon conviction.

Problem: Wendy was demanding 90% of Jeri’s income to cover up a crime. This would make that provision of the divorce agreement void, as one cannot contract to cover-up a crime. This also poses serious ethical issues for Wendy’s lawyer, who effectively was helping threaten criminal liability as consideration for a divorce agreement to take an unconscionable amount of money.

A divorce agreement where one party has to provide 90% of their income to the other would fall under the class meaning of “unconscionable,” because “no man in his senses and not under any delusion would make on the one hand, and as no honest and fair man would accept on the other.” Murray on Contracts, section 96, citing Hume v United States, 132 U.S. 406 (1889), quoting from Earl of Chesterfield v. Janssen, 2 Ves. Sen. 125, 155 (Ch. 1750).

Wendy demanding 90% of Jeri’s income would be extortion under New York law, which is defined as when one person compels another to deliver them property in order to avoid 1) accusing the victim of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against them, or 2) expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule. NY CLS Penal § 155.05(2)(E)(iv) and (v). Courts as a matter of public policy do not enforce illegal bargains and as such, would not enforce a divorce agreement founded upon extortion.

Is Wendy entitled to a divorce from Jeri? Yes. Should Jeri be disbarred if she is convicted of jury tampering? Yes. Can Wendy extort Jeri for 90% of her assets in exchange for not reporting Jeri to the bar in a divorce agreement? No way. The Courts are not an instrument to enforce illegal deals for revenge.

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Josh Gilliland

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.