Telling an Italian-American lawyers group to fuhgeddaboudit, a Chicago judge on Wednesday tossed a largely symbolic lawsuit filed against the producers of The Sopranos, accusing HBO's acclaimed Mob drama of insulting the dignity of Italian-Americans by depicting them as mobsters.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Siebel ruled that American Italian Defense Association (AIDA) suffered no harm at the hands of The Sopranos, despite its claims to the contrary. He also sang the praises of the Constitution, pointing out that the show's producers have the free speech right to make Tony and family as bad as they want to be.
"The aria may be offensive to Verdi, but The Sopranos have the constitutional right to sing," Siebel wrote in his 11-page opinion, throwing in a jokey reference to the 19th Century Italian composer's opera, Aida, which is also the acroynm for the Italian-American group's name.
While Tony Soprano has gotten his dignity back, Ted Grippo, the attorney representing the lawyer's group, declined to comment on the turf war, except to say that AIDA would appeal the judge's decision.
The organization, which brought its suit on the basis of a relatively obscure "individual dignity" clause in the state's constitution, did not seek any monetary damages. Rather, the group sought to raise awareness of ethnic stereotypes by asking a jury to formally condemn the series for harming the image of Italian-Americans by portraying them as criminal and morally corrupt.
Buried in section 20 of the Illinois constitution, the "individual dignity" clause provides for the protection of individuals by denouncing "communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue" in racial, religious or ethnic groups.
During the hearing, a lawyer for HBO's corporate parent, AOL Time Warner, denied that the show disparaged the Italian-American community and argued that the suit's dismissal was necessary since it could leave producers vulnerable to more suits from groups seeking money and also force them to censor the content of their shows to protect themselves.
HBO released a statement saying it was "gratified" by the ruling. Time Warner attorney Tom Yannucci told the Associated Press, "It shuts down the effort to try dramas and fictional matters in a courtroom."
Ironically, recent episodes of The Sopranos have tried tackling the issue of stereotyping, including one in which the husband of Lorraine Bracco's character castigates Tony Sr., telling him mobsters gave Italian-Americans a bad name.