Stung by the "Sopranos," the lawyers strike back
April 5, 2001 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Stung by the "Sopranos," the lawyers strike back The Italian American Defense league suing because the HBO show Sopranos defames their claim with or without merit?
posted by Postroad (40 comments total)
From a previous thread:

Litigation - Popular recreational sport, like baseball, allowing Americans to generate a useful second income from spilling coffee on themselves
posted by starvingartist at 1:15 PM on April 5, 2001

Has anyone explained what a work of fiction is to the Italian American Defense League?

If these guys win, I'm personally suing Sandra Bullock, for undue pain and suffering incurred after viewing The Net, and having to deal with friends and family members thinking the internet was what she and the movie claimed it to be.
posted by mathowie at 1:15 PM on April 5, 2001

As an Italian American whose family looks very much like the people on the Sopranos, I'd have to say that the lawsuit is silly, and should be thrown out of court. That said, it isn't the best portrayal of Italian Americans in the world. But neither, really, is the Godfather or Goodfellas. Where the Sopranos falls short, I think, is that the show glamorizes crime. Goodfellas, for instance, made crime look fun as hell, but showed the other, immoral, violent face of it. Tony Soprano murdered his best friend, is involved in all sorts of horrible things, but is essentially a big teddy bear and you're supposed to think he's a great fella.
posted by Doug at 1:19 PM on April 5, 2001

I saw this on the local news last night and was hoping beyond hope that it wouldn't make the national media, if only to spare the city I live in the embarrassment of being associated with this kind of stupidity...
posted by m.polo at 1:26 PM on April 5, 2001

StarvingArtist, cute quote, but it's a bunch of bullcrap.

I don't think one should be able to sue over a work of fiction, Matt, but they can be harmful to the reputation and societal standing of a minority. I mean, little black Sambo didn't help the african american image much.
posted by Doug at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2001

Particularly absurd is the fact that a fringe character on the show is portrayed as working heavily in support of The Italian American Defense League (or some fictional equivalent) and dislikes people like the Tony Soprano character because they give Italians a bad name.
posted by willnot at 1:32 PM on April 5, 2001

Doug, I didn't make up the quote, I merely referenced it. Why don't you go look at the context before you put me down?
posted by starvingartist at 1:35 PM on April 5, 2001

Didn't put you down, man, put the quote down. It's not personal, it's just a silly quote.
posted by Doug at 1:41 PM on April 5, 2001

Ouch. My knee jerked so hard I banged it against the bottom of my desk. Sorry, Doug.

The point is, there is a lot of frivolous litigation in this country. It's just that the MickeyD's-coffee-suit is the most famous, even if it wasn't really frivolous.
posted by starvingartist at 1:46 PM on April 5, 2001

"wasn't really frivolous"?
posted by m.polo at 1:49 PM on April 5, 2001

yes, read the bullcrap link on Doug's post.
posted by starvingartist at 1:55 PM on April 5, 2001

I was entirely unaware that "The Sopranos" depicted all, or even a majority, of Italian-Americans. They must have a hell of a lot of budget for extras.

Or are these jokers claiming that all Italian-Americans are alike? That's the only way such a suit could make sense.
posted by kindall at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2001

Didn't they discuss this issue on the show itself? I seem to recall a discussion about whether or not the Godfather fairly portrayed Italian Amercians.
posted by xammerboy at 2:03 PM on April 5, 2001

This law suit is not about winning damages or righting wrongs. It's about publicity.

If it gets airplay, webplay, etc, and if we all express outrage about it, they're getting their message and their organization out there.

I feel so used.
posted by anapestic at 2:04 PM on April 5, 2001

we are all tools in the machine anapestic.
posted by mathowie at 2:05 PM on April 5, 2001

Speak for yourself, Matt... I, for one, am not a part of this discus... oh. wait. nevermind.
posted by silusGROK at 2:45 PM on April 5, 2001

Legally speaking, this lawsuit is a strong contender to sleep with the fishes. I quote from the article:

Only one other suit was ever brought under the dignity clause. An African American sought monetary damages because of a racial epithet used against him. A Downstate court dismissed his suit.

Without that constitutional hook, it's even more of a loser, since it is in fact a work of fiction and no individual can claim to have been personally defamed.

Does the lawsuit help send the messgae these folks want? Well, I dunno, but I suspect most people think the lawsuit is a bunch of hooey. That, to me, would be counterproductive and a very expensive waste of judicial resources.

Besides, do those guys REALLY want Tony Soprano knocking on their door in the middle of the night? Fugheddaboutit!
posted by mikewas at 3:14 PM on April 5, 2001

As a member of a well-defined sub-category within American society, I plan to sue the creators of the movies Single White Female, Basic Instinct, and Fatal Attraction for defaming my dignity by implying that white, blonde, American women tend to be homicidal maniacs. I also plan to sue the creators of Showgirls, Bowfinger, & countless other movies for forwarding the stereotype that we will do just about anything to make it big in showbiz. Finally, I also plan to sue the makers of all Goldie Hawn movies, Robert Altman, and the estates of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield for reasons that should be obvious.

Then it's on to television.
posted by jfwlucy at 3:17 PM on April 5, 2001

My family is largely Italian and Irish, two ethnic groups that have gotten their share of stereotyping over the years. And none of it has ever bothered any of us a bit. We watch The Sopranos religiously, and since the Italian side of my family is located entirely in suburban NYC, I can vouch that they look, sound and act exactly like the Italians do on that show. Perhaps this pressure group wouldn't be as pissed off if they were New Jersey Italians that all looked like David Hasselhoff and had Texas accents?

Sadly, no member of my family is in the Mafia (to my knowledge), but Jerry Vale once quickly exited a room full of fans after noticing my grandfather was staring at him through a pair of sunglasses. Guess he owed somebody some money.

In short, yes, the claim is without merit, so much so that the plaintiffs ought to be brought up on charges of filing frivolous lawsuits. I don't even consider there to be room for argument on this matter. We have the freedom to create whatever ficticious stories we want, period.

But hey, whaddya gonna do.
posted by aaron at 4:33 PM on April 5, 2001

Could you sue someone for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against you?
posted by Zool at 4:55 PM on April 5, 2001

"Perhaps this pressure group wouldn't be as pissed off if they were New Jersey Italians that all looked like David Hasselhoff and had Texas accents?"

LOL!!! Now this I'd like to see. I don't watch the Sopranos because it does glamorize crime like Doug said. But if the Italians looked like David Hasselhoff and had Texas accents I'd watch it because - DAMN!!! - that'd be funny! haha!
posted by FAB4GIRL at 8:50 PM on April 5, 2001

That's it, I'm suing BMW... I test-drove a Z3 the other day, and it didn't make me feel like James Bond.

And it doesn't have machine guns.
posted by SpecialK at 8:53 PM on April 5, 2001

"Could you sue someone for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against you?"

Yes and no, Zool. A defendant who wins an allegedly frivolous lawsuit could countersue based on a charge of malicious prosecution, but you'd have to show the plaintiff was, well, malicious in bringing the original suit against you. That seems not to be the case here.

More common is to seek sanctions against the plaintiffs under Rule 11 at the federal level or rule 137 in Illinois (where this suit is being brought). This rule prohibits frivolous lawsuits (it's more complicated than that but that's the general idea).
posted by Outlawyr at 4:53 AM on April 6, 2001

For better or worse (probably better), the provision under which this suit will supposedly be brought is likely unconstitutional. And will the suit actually be prosecuted? It's probably just a clever way to make a point in our dumb media (which wouldn't pay attention if they weren't bringing a law suit). Personally, I find it disturbing that a program which glamorizes violence and enforces a stereotype is so popular--another reason not to have cable (an episode seen at friend's house).
posted by ParisParamus at 5:37 AM on April 6, 2001

"the provision under which this suit will supposedly be brought is likely unconstitutional"

How so, this suit is based on the Illinois Constitution. How can constitutional provision itself be unconstitutional? Quantum physics?

"Section 20 of Illinois' Constitution reads in part: "Communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue in . . . a group of persons by reason of or by reference to religious, racial, ethnic, national or religious affiliation are condemned."
posted by Outlawyr at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2001

Interesting citation there, Outlawyr, but I'd be willing to bet that Illinois' Section 20 runs afoul of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, aka the supreme law of the land.
posted by whuppy at 7:22 AM on April 6, 2001

I remember a while back, before the start of Season [2|3, I don't remember] there was a little blurb about the open casting call the Soprano's had. It was in New Jersey, and it was for either extras throughout the year, or for new regular characters. Perhaps both.

Anyway, the line-up for the auditions took over at least one city block. An aerial view showed quite a throng of people hoping to be cast.

This, to me, prooves a couple of things. 1) The people the show is supposedly offended are trying to be on the show. 2) People that match the show's stereotype are so hard to find, they had to turn to the public-at-large (as opposed to an agency) to fill the roles. How rare must a stereotype be when there aren't a few hundred full-time wait staff who can't portray them?
posted by cCranium at 8:11 AM on April 6, 2001

"How so, this suit is based on the Illinois Constitution. How can constitutional provision itself be unconstitutional? Quantum physics?"

A State constitution provision can certainly violate the Federal constitution, which is supreme.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:14 AM on April 6, 2001

Paris and Whuppy

Yes, Fed trumps State, but what provision applies here. First amend says "Congress shall make no law" so obviously, as Whuppy implies, we have to turn to the Fourteenth amendment. What provision of the 14th does this Illinois constitutional provision violate? "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Can you apply the 1st through the 14th? Any citations?
posted by Outlawyr at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2001

I am no constitutional lawyer (more of a good ambulance chaser) but it's pretty clear that no State law can violate the First Amendment.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2001

The 14th Amendment pertains to equal protection as applied to state laws. It has nothing to do with Free Speech.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2001

Paris, your second post undermines your first. If you can't make a 14th amendment arguement you can't apply the 1st, since it doesn't apply directly to the states. You have to go through the 14th.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2001

Since when does the 14th Amendment have anything to do with Free Speech? My understanding is that the 14th Amendment was added because the Equal Protection afforded by the Fifth Amendment applies only to Federal law. That's all I can say.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:40 AM on April 6, 2001

It was added because the bill of rights only applied to Fed, not state. They needed to control the states. But not everything in the bill of rights has been held to apply through the 14th. It's a narrow doorway.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2001

By the way, the 1st amendment has been applied to the states through the 14th, starting with Gitlow v. New York, 268 US 652 (1925). The Gitlow court held that the liberty of speech and of the press that the First amendment guarantees against abridgment by the federal government is within the liberty safeguarded by the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment from invasion by state action. Gitlow was convicted of criminal anarchy. Check it out.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:19 AM on April 6, 2001

Thanks for the cite--except that I rely on Metafilter to ESCAPE law! In any case, I doubt such a law suit would do anything but give more publicity to the Sopranos...
posted by ParisParamus at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2001

Sorry Paris, me too. The interesting thing is I sort of know one of the plaintiffs' attorneys and he teaches first amendment law. I almost suspect him of bringing the suit to have the provision struck down based on Gitlow and the cases that followed it. I wouldn't put it past him. That's just a guess mind you, wild speculation.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2001

Could you sue someone for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against you?

Zool, you can ALWAYS sue. Will you survive a motion to dismiss, now that's a different question.

Outlawyr: Are you seriously questioning the applicability of the First Amendment to the States?
posted by mikewas at 4:06 PM on April 6, 2001

I think Outlawyr is saying that the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment may both protect free speech in certain contexts.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:10 PM on April 6, 2001

Mike, I'm saying you can't apply the first directly to the states, it has to be applied through the 14th, and that makes things trickier. It is not clear what the result of doing so would be in this case.
posted by Outlawyr at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2001

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