Court Fight Over Cash From "The Sopranos"

"Sopranos" creator David Chase leaves after court proceedings at the Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and Courthouse Wednesday Dec. 12, 2007, in Trenton, N.J. A federal jury was told Wednesday that Chase got help in developing HBO's Emmy-winning mob drama and owes a former municipal Judge Robert Baer for that assistance. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) AP

A U.S. federal jury was told that "Sopranos" creator David Chase got help in developing television's award-winning mob drama and owes a former municipal judge for that assistance.

But a lawyer for Chase countered Wednesday that when compensation was discussed, Robert Baer declined payment.

Baer contends that Chase owes him for services he provided in 1995 - during a three-day tour around northern New Jersey and subsequent conversations - that he says helped Chase create what eventually became an HBO cable TV hit.

Baer lawyer Harley D. Breite told the jury his client had reasonable expectations for payment, but "David Chase never compensated Mr. Baer for his services."

Peter L. Skolnik, a lawyer for Chase, told the panel that Baer told Chase several times he did not want compensation.

In addition, when Chase's script was rejected by Fox Broadcasting, Chase did not seek help from Baer, Skolnik said. "That's when David decided he needed a true Mafia expert," he said. That expert, Dan Castleman, was not paid for his services during the writing of the pilot, Skolnik said.

Baer sued Chase in 2002, claiming he suggested a TV show about organized crime in New Jersey and gave Chase a crash course on the North Jersey mob. He wants acknowledgment for his role and compensation.

In court filings, Chase called Baer's claims "grossly distorted, petulant and self-aggrandizing" and said Baer provided a "modest service," arranging to introduce him to individuals who were experienced in certain facets of organized crime.

Chase also said virtually all of the information provided to him during his visit with Baer exists in the public domain and were not original ideas.

In court Wednesday, Skolnik said it was Chase who provided services to Baer, reading drafts of two scripts, an unsolicited one Baer wrote for "The Rockford Files" and another called "Tony," a police comedy.

And Chase picked up the tab for a June 1995 lunch in California where the two men first met. Skolnik said Chase took the meeting as a favor to a common friend who worked as a cameraman in Hollywood to help out an aspiring writer from New Jersey.

"That favor will turn out to be one of the bigger mistakes of David Chase's life," Skolnik told the jury.

Judge Joel A. Pisano dismissed Baer's lawsuit twice, but those rulings were overturned.

The legal dispute centers on Baer's role in developing the show in 1995, years before "The Sopranos" became a cable sensation.

Baer claims Chase's ideas came after Baer arranged meetings with police detectives and other experts and escorted him around mob sites in the Newark-Elizabeth area.

Last month, Pisano ruled that Baer cannot mention certain factual information about crimes, characters or locations derived from meetings he arranged for Chase because they were based on facts in the public domain.

Chase, dressed in a black suit, sat at a table Wednesday with his three lawyers and his wife, Denise Chase, who is vice president of his production company.

He declined to discuss the case, but showed a flash of wit. Asked how he would write the ending to this story, the legendary director, producer and writer replied: "It's the Writers Guild strike, I can't tell you that now."
By Janet Frankston Lorin
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