On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins said Chase-Riboud's $10 million copyright infringement suit against DreamWorks--she claims portions of Amistad were cribbed from her 1989 book Echo of Lions--raises serious questions and merits a trial. She refused to block the release of the $75 million film, however, ruling an injunction would pose too great a hardship for the studio.
Chase-Riboud's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, said he understood the judge's rationale. "It's hard to argue that a $75 million investment isn't significant," he says. "Name the last Hollywood movie that was enjoined, and I'll buy you lunch."
But he claims he is "very pleased" the judge would tout his case's merits in its early, prediscovery stage. He adds that he's going to push for a trial as early as this spring.
Speaking to the microphone-equipped media crush outside the courthouse, Chase-Riboud--a critically acclaimed African-American author who successfully sued a theater producer whom she claimed stole from her book Sally Hemmings--said she's disappointed. "A preliminary injunction is the only protection a poor person has against a rich infringer. But I'm not backing off. Joseph Cinque [the leader of the 1839 African revolt aboard the L'Amistad] went through three trials before winning his freedom. I can go through three, too."
Lawyers for both sides spent some of the morning trying--unsuccessfully--to negotiate a settlement. But DreamWorks ultimately balked when asked to award a film credit for Chase-Riboud. "We don't want to create the impression [Amistad] was based on her work," says DreamWorks attorney Bert Fields.
Meanwhile, in other Spielberg news, a January 13 trial was set Monday for a man arrested last summer near the filmmaker's Pacific Palisades, California, home for allegedly stalking the director.
A British newspaper has reported the accused, Jonathan F. Norman, 31, had intended to kidnap one of Spielberg's seven kids.
Details of the Los Angeles Superior Court case, however, have been hard to come by, since all court documents have been sealed by the presiding judge, prompting several First Amendment lawyers to call the case an example of officials going overboard to protect a celebrity.
(UPDATED 12/8/97 3:15 p.m. PT)