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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Judge stakes Sopranos claim
Lorraine Bracco, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco at awards ceremony
The Sopranos has picked up viewers and awards
A judge and former prosecutor has alleged he helped create the hit gangster series The Sopranos but missed out on the profits.

Robert Baer is a municipal court judge in Prospect Park, New Jersey, and a former assistant prosecutor in Union and Hudson counties.

He has taken legal action to make series creator David Chase compensate him.

We make it a policy not to comment on frivolous or meritless claims

Michael Gendler
Lawyer for David Chase
The show has been a massive success in both the US and UK, gaining awards and viewers for its portrayal of a gang boss who is in therapy and his complicated family and "business" life.

Mr Baer says he had suggested a TV show about gangsters in New Jersey and met repeatedly with Chase to fill him in on organised crime in North Jersey.

The judge says he even reviewed an early draft of the pilot episode for Mr Chase.

He says he had an oral agreement with Mr Chase that if the show was successful, Mr Baer would be "appropriately compensated".

'Invaluable contribution'

But after the show was sold to the HBO US cable network and became a success, Mr Baer says he was excluded.

"My client is responsible for the concept of The Sopranos," Mr Baer's lawyer, Harley Breite said.

"But for his invaluable contributions, there would be no Sopranos."

The Sopranos
The cast is mainly Italian American
But Mr Chase's lawyer Michael Gendler said: "We make it a policy not to comment on frivolous or meritless claims."

Mr Baer met Mr Chase in 1995 through a mutual friend, Joseph Urbanczyk, who has known Mr Baer since they were children.

Mr Urbanczyk, a camera operator in Hollywood, described the conflict between the men as "a very ugly situation" and said Mr Chase turned his back on Mr Baer when he found success.

The legal action asserts that during a three-hour lunch in Santa Monica, California, Mr Baer recounted stories of gangsters in northern New Jersey to Mr Chase, and suggested that they set the series in a town called Elizabeth.

Phone calls

"That's the reason why on the opening credits, you see the turnpike sign for the Elizabeth exit," Harley Breite said.

Many of the show's outdoor shots were filmed in Elizabeth's predominantly Italian Peterstown area.

The legal action says Mr Chase later made dozens of phone calls to Mr Baer at his home to ask questions about the mob in New Jersey.

It says Mr Baer still has the copy of a script he read and reviewed for Mr Chase.

Harley Breite said Mr Baer tried several times to contact David Chase after the show was sold to HBO.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Showbiz
Sopranos actor admits mugging
05 Jul 01 | Showbiz
Sopranos actor arrested
05 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
West Wing, Sopranos dominate Emmys
20 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
The Sopranos given 'right to sing'
24 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Crowds mob Sopranos auditions
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