Saturday, March 29, 2003
New York A New York lawyer who claims she had the original idea for the box-office hit "Bringing Down the House" filed a $15 million copyright lawsuit Friday against star Queen Latifah and the movie's other producers.
Marie Flaherty claims the movie is a rip-off of "Amoral Dilemma," a screenplay she wrote several years ago about a lawyer who meets a prisoner online, only to have the prisoner wreak havoc in his life.
"Bringing Down the House," a comedy starring Latifah and Steve Martin, is about a prisoner who meets a lawyer in a chat room, then weasels her way into his life in hopes he can exonerate her.
The movie has been atop the box-office charts since it was released earlier this month, raking in $83.3 million through last weekend.
Flaherty claims Boston attorney George N. Tobia Jr. agreed to represent her in 1999 as she tried to sell "Amoral Dilemma."
Just a few months later, she says, Tobia called her to say he and a family friend, screenwriter Jason Filardi, had sold a script -- "Jailbabe.com," the screenplay that eventually became "Bringing Down the House."
Flaherty confronted Tobia about the similarities, and he told her repeatedly that Filardi's script was a comedy, while hers was a drama, she argues in the lawsuit.
Tobia did not immediately return a call for comment.
The copyright-infringement lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks a minimum of $15 million -- but Flaherty points out the court could award her more considering the movie's hefty gross.
The lawsuit names as defendants Tobia, Filardi and the movie's producers -- including Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens. Latifah spokeswoman Amanda Silverman did not immediately have a comment.
Hyde Park Entertainment, which produced the film, and Walt Disney Co., which distributed it, also are listed as co-defendants.
Flaherty, an attorney who plans to represent herself, did not immediately return a call for comment.