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Is threatening to file criminal charges to a third party illegal in a cease and desist letter?

Houston, TX |

my ex's new wife has been harassing me unmercifully. I finally had enough when she sent my business partners an anonymous fax (forgetting that the header comes thru). I sent a cease and desist letter to the owner of that fax machine. In it I told them I was going to file criminal charges against them or their employee (who I believe to be my ex's new wife). Now I am being sued for defamation by new wife and for job loss (job was terminated 9 months after the letter, same week she attacked a coworker). Plaintiff is hanging their hat on the threat. I know I was wrong, but can't find code or authority?

I wish I could give you TEN likes on this. Thank you!

Attorney Answers 2


  1. short on time hence the short answer (apologies), but this is a super duper easy one that i've come across numerous times before, and is important for not only lawyers/clients, but EVERYONE to know in this country. the following longstanding and well-settled rule, almost certain never to be overturned or modified to any meaningful extent, is as follows, and most assuredly applies wherever you are, no matter the venue or jurisdiction.

    THE RULE I REFER TO STATES: "while it is perfectly legal to threaten a CIVIL action, meaning of course a formal lawsuit and litigation etc.,,"in the very different context and circumstance in which the declarant (speaker/violator) threatens ANY KIND OF CRIMINAL, OR EVEN GOVERNMENTAL OR OTHER STATE AGENCY ACTION (such as contacting the Attorney General's Office, the INS (now Dept of Homeland Sec., etc.) that the declarant threatens to undertake if you dont do this or that, AS A MATTER OF LAW, you have yourself a VERY strong claim for harassment (civil, and likely in the 2nd degree, based on my NY experience).

    to reiterate:
    *it is OK to threaten suit
    **however, it is ILLEGAL (not criminally punishable as far as I know but depending on how vitriolic and colorful the language is, I can easily see an angry or impatient judge imposing criminal sanctions, or referring the matter to the criminal part of the same courthouse, in the extreme circumstance;

    ILLEGAL TO THREATEN TO CALL THE COPS, OR THE D.A., OR THE FEDS, ETC. and doing so will buy you a lawsuit if you underestimate their resolve, as that is harrassment 101.

    hope this helps!

    best,
    matthew

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  2. I think what you are asking is whether the new wife has a valid defamation claim, since that is why she sued you, and more specifically whether your threat to file a criminal complaint gives them a basis for a defamation claim.

    That's a difficult question to answer without knowing the contents of the letter you sent via fax. The statements in your letter form the basis of her claim it sounds like.

    If I remember correctly the elements of a common law defamation claim in Texas against a private individual are that the defendant negligently published a defamatory statement about the Plaintiff, and that statement was false. A statement of opinion would likely not be defamatory, for example: "I think you are a liar and a horrible person." A statement represented as fact is more likely to be, for example: "You were fired from your last job because you stole money from your employer."

    Texas also has statutory libel as well as common law, which you can read about here: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CP/htm/CP.73.htm

    With respect to her harassing you, you may want to take a look at 42.07 of the Texas Penal Code, the statute for the crime of harassment. To be clear, I am absolutely not advocating you file a criminal complaint in retaliation for or to get an upper hand in her defamation suit. I just think it would help you to know what Texas law considers criminal harassment:
    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.42.htm#42.07

    You do not have the type of case I typically handle, but it would probably be a good idea for you to consult with an attorney who handles defamation claims to review the new wife's petition and the letter you sent her. But if you come across someone who needs a hard-working personal injury attorney, please keep me in mind. Best of luck.

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