The Chicago Syndicate: Federal Case for Sopranos Sequel

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Federal Case for Sopranos Sequel

Tony Soprano never had to sing in court. But the brains behind the mobster is ready to take the stand.

David Chase turned up Wednesday in a federal courtroom Trenton, New Jersey, for a trial that will determine whether the Sopranos mastermind got help dreaming up the series from a former gavel-banger.

The outcome, or any financial award, will be decided by a jury of seven women and one man, who were seated during the morning session. Two would-be jurors were given the boot after they admitted to being huge fans of the HBO hit, which, literally, went black earlier this season.

Chase sat at the defense table, flanked by his wife and his legal team.

Robert Baer, who toiled as a municipal court judge in Prospect Park, New Jersey, filed suit in 2002, claiming he's due some serious clams for coming up with key elements of The Sopranos.

A federal judge twice dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the deal between him and Chase was too vague to be binding.

Both times, however, an appeals court overturned the decisions by U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano and reinstated the complaint. The appellate panel did agree with several of Pisano's points, though, and allowed the lower court judge to limit the case's scope.

Per his breach-of-contract suit, Baer claims he and Chase met for lunch in California in 1995 and discussed the idea for The Sopranos. During their conversation, Baer says he gave a thorough debriefing about his days as an assistant DA targeting Mafia types and suggested colorful locales to set the show.

"He proposed the idea about doing the show about the north Jersey Mafia," Baer's lawyer, Harley Breite, told the Asbury Park Press. "He's looking to be compensated for the value of what he did, the services and assistance he provided to Mr. Chase."

Breite says Chase kept in touch with Baer and frequently used him as an expert consultant on questions about organized crime. Chase even sent Baer a draft of The Sopranos pilot to weigh in on, the attorney claims.

Baer also claims to have introduced Chase to detectives on the mob beat. Among his most significant suggestions, Baer alleges, were that Tony and his crew hang out a local pork store and have an older Jewish character as an adviser.

Breite says that when Baer tried to contact Chase after The Sopranos was picked up by HBO, the producer never returned his calls.

According to Chase though, Baer can fuhgeddaboud trying to claim credit for the most honored drama in cable TV history.

Calling Baer's lawsuit "grossly distorted, petulant and self-aggrandizing," Chase says the former judge provided only a "modest service." And while he admits sending the ex-judge a copy of The Sopranos episode in court papers, Chase says the former judge didn't submit "a single suggestion for improvement of [his] script."

The producer has also stated that he had come up with the concept five years prior to his lunch date with Baer and was "keenly aware" of the subject, having spent his childhood in the Garden State.

The plot-poaching trial is expected to last five days.

Thanks to Josh Grossberg

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