Chicago But lawyers for the American Italian Defense Assn. asked Judge Richard Siebel to let its suit proceed, urging him to issue a declaratory judgement condemning the show as a violation of a clause in the Illinois Constitution guaranteeing individual dignity.
"The paradox here is that you cannot defame an individual member of an ethnic group, but you can defame the entire group," attorney Michael Polelle said, noting they were not seeking monetary damages nor the show's removal.
"Tony Soprano is not above the law in any courtroom," Polelle said. But the entertainment company's attorney, Thomas Yannucci, argued for dismissal of the suit filed in April, countering that "Tony Soprano is not above the law -- he's a fictional character."
"They do not like the message, and while I strongly disagree with their view of the message that it stereotypes (Italian-Americans negatively), courts are not supposed to adjudicate the content of television programs," Yannucci said.
"It's not something you can use to haul a TV show into court," he said. Theodore Grippo, the group's chairman, said a judge's condemnation of the show as offensive to Italian-Americans may not have much legal impact "but it might make the show's producers more sensitive, and stop them from running roughshod over any group they want."
"The show is very brutal, it's full of sex. It's just a money-making machine," Grippo said outside the court.
On the contrary, condemning the hugely popular show, which is filming its fourth season, would have a "chilling effect ... on artistic expression," Yannucci said. "You cannot bring a lawsuit based on not liking what a program says."
"What's next?" he asked of setting such a precedent for censorship, "'Dukes of Hazzard,' 'Gone With the Wind,' 'Catcher in the Rye?"'
Judge Siebel said he would rule on the motion to dismiss on Sept. 13.