The long-running NBC TV show, Law and Order, promotes its shows with claims of “ripped from the headlines,” but always includes a disclaimer within each episode that the story and characters are fictional. Questionable.
Well, one attorney is not happy about having his likeness ripped from the headlines of this New York Times story from 2003. And he’s been given the go-ahead to proceed with his $15 million libel suit against the show. From the New York Law Journal:
Attorney Ravi Batra can proceed with a $15 million libel suit against the creators of “Law & Order” for airing an episode depicting a “bald Indian-American” lawyer who bribes a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, a Manhattan court has ruled.
The lawyer filed the defamation action in 2004 against 35 defendants, including producer Dick Wolf and NBC Universal, claiming that an episode was based on a corruption scandal involving Justice Gerald Garson, matrimonial lawyer Paul Siminovsky and Batra.
In what she deemed the first “libel-in-fiction” claim to survive a summary motion in nearly 25 years, Acting Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Shafer held that viewers “would identify” a fictional lawyer character dubbed “Ravi Patel” with Batra “because of the uniqueness of [Batra’s] name, ethnicity and appearance.”
Batra has probably never been so happy to be a bald man. It seems this shared feature with the “Law and Order” character is a big part of the case. And their both being Indian:
The episode, entitled “Floater,” centered around the husband of a woman who turns up dead in the Hudson River. The husband’s alibi leads police to uncover a corruption scandal involving a divorce lawyer and a judge at the courthouse where his wife worked.
The episode portrayed a bald Indian-American matrimonial attorney called “Ravi Patel,” played by India-born actor Erick Avari, bribing a female Brooklyn Supreme Court justice.
Batra was never charged with corruption or bribery, but his reputation was hurt by the bad press.
We’ve tracked down photos of Ravi Batra and the actor who played “Ravi Patel” (Erick Avari, better known as genetics doctor Chandra Suresh from NBC’s straight-up awesome show Heroes). Judge the similarities for yourselves!
Update: More from from the NYT’s City Room (which actually wrote up the case before the NYLJ):
Mr. Batra demonstrated that at the time the episode aired, he was one of only six lawyers in New York City with the given name Ravi and the only one of the six with the same age and physical description as the Patel character.
‘Law & Order’ Faces a Libel Case [City Room / New York Times]
Attorney’s $15 Million Libel Lawsuit Against ‘Law & Order’ Creators, NBC Goes Forward [New York Law Journal on Law.com via The BLT]
FRIEND OF THE COURT: One Lawyer’s Inside Track; Cozying Up to Judges, and Reaping Opportunity [The New York Times]