As Bart Simpson would say, “Eat my shorts, Frank!” Almost 10 months after Frank Sivero sued Fox for $250 million over claims that The Simpsons stole the Frankie Carbone character he portrayed in Goodfellas, the case was dismissed. In a hearing Thursday morning in L.A. Superior Court, Judge Rita Miller issued a tentative ruling to toss the actor’s complaint, first filed last October.
“I think the tentative relied on some inaccuracies,” said Sivero’s lawyer Alex H. Herrera, disputing the anti-SLAPP ruling. “He should be given an appropriate day in court to prove his case.” The judge was quick to solidify her call that Sivero wasn’t the basis for The Simpsons‘ mobster, because the cartoon character doesn’t look enough like him to merit a continuation of the mater. “If I was a teenage girl and I had a crush on your client, would I be happy with a poster of this character Louie?” she rhetorically asked Herrera. “Even if Mr. Sivero face was on this as long as it is parody you can’t win.” The Golden State’s anti-SLAPP law puts the weight on a plaintiff challenging a First Amendment protected freedom of speech work to show they will likely win. The judge obviously thought that was not the case in this case.
Sivero was not in court today. His lawyer raised the notion of an appeal but would not confirm that outside the courtroom. “It’s not up to me,” said Herrera.
Fox asserted in their March 23 filing to dismiss the case that it “specifically denies that the character ‘Louie’ in The Simpsons television series was based on Plaintiff or any character that he has ever played.” In his October 21 multimillion-dollar and multi-claim complaint, Sivero said the similar looking member of Fat Tony’s Springfield crime crew was clearly based on his character from the 1990 Martin Scorsese-directed drama. Not just because they look alike but because James L. Brooks essentially told him so. The 12-page filing alleged that producer Brooks was “highly aware of who Sivero was, the fact that he created the role of Frankie Carbone, and that The Simpsons character Louie would be based on this character.” The defendant has said “instead of being ‘based on’ plaintiff, ‘Louie’ clearly is a parody of Hollywood depictions of mobsters and an amalgamation of various mobsters from Goodfellas.”
First introduced in October 1991 during the long-running series’ fourth season, the Louie character has appeared in 15 Simpsons episodes over the decades, including one as recently as the 2014-2015 season. He also appears in the 2007 feature film.
Claiming that that Matt Groening-created Simpsons has made over $12 billion all in over the years, Sivero had been very specific about what he wanted in damages. Throwing a spanner in a lot of this is that Sivero claims he created the character of Carbone – which might be news to Scorsese, Goodfellas screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi and Warner Bros. Last fall, the actor and his attorney asked for $50 million in damages for loss of the Sivero’s likeness, another $50 million in actual loss for “improper appropriation of Plaintiff’s confidential idea,” $50 million more in exemplary damages, and $100 million for “improper interference.”
A few of the names changed since the initial filing, with Sivero getting court permission in early March to dismiss Fox Television Studios Inc. and 21st Century Fox America Inc. from the case. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation was named as the single defendant in the matter. Leading up to today’s hearing, the two sides have fought over several procedures in the case such as striking elements of the initial complaint. Of deep concern to the plaintiff was allowing testimony from caricature artist Dominic Arneson, who the plaintiff cited as an expert in determining the similarities of Frankie and Louie. Fox wanted Arneson’s declaration rejected by the court because they said he lacked the proper qualifications.
Representing Fox in the case are Robert Rothstein and Daniel Kohler of L.A.’s Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP. Herrera of Beverly Hills firm Hess, Hess & Herrera, P.C. is handling matters for Sivero.