Mel-Gibson_Oksana-Grigorieva1.jpgWhile the child custody case between Mel Gibson and his former girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, is ongoing, the police investigation into possible extortion by Grigorieva is now in its final stages. According to Gibson's attorney, Grigorieva allegedly secretly recorded a string of Gibson's embarrassing rants and demanded more than $20 million in exchange for not releasing the tapes.

Prosecutors are now attempting to determine whether Grigorieva's demand qualifies as extortion or simply an aggressive legal negotiation strategy.

Gibson's legal team did view the demand as extortion, though even the most experienced legal experts often have trouble discerning the fine line between threatening civil litigation in order to seek a financial settlement, which is usually legal, and threatening criminal prosecution or public humiliation in order to seek the same, which is usually a crime.

Gibson's team consulted a criminal attorney, who said the actor was indeed the victim of extortion. However, the attorney cautioned that the tapes would be publicized if Gibson pressed criminal charges. Ultimately, Gibson's attorneys decided to propose an $18 million settlement for Grigorieva and their daughter, Lucia. The settlement, which would be paid out over 20 years, stipulated that Gibson and Grigorieva would share child custody. In exchange, the tape recordings would be stored in a safe deposit box.

Grigorieva's lawyers replied with a request for more money. As part of Grigorieva's demands, Gibson would owe $26 million in assets and only receive visitation rights. This deal fell through, and the tapes were ultimately released.

Grigorieva's actions illustrate how easy it can be to cross the line from aggressively negotiating to committing a crime. Had she consulted more carefully with an attorney, she may not have exposed herself to possible criminal charges.

If you find yourself in a child custody dispute, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand the process and the legal issues involved.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "A look at secret negotiations in Mel Gibson case as detectives wrap investigation," Harriet Ryan, 2/17/2011