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Century City Firm Defends Against ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Defamation Case

Wolf of Wall Street
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is at the center of a defamation lawsuit. (Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

The debauchery of The Wolf of Wall Street has certainly stirred up quite the conversation about whether Martin Scorsese used a little too much yarn in his depiction of the life of a successful stockbroker. Scorsese’s storytelling resulted in a defamation lawsuit filed last month, to which attorneys representing Paramount Pictures Corp. and three other entities responded April 7 with a Motion to Dismiss.

One of those attorneys, Louis P. Petrich of Leopold, Petrich, and Smith, is part of the defense team that claims plaintiff Andrew Greene was not defamed by The Wolf of Wall Street.

In his lawsuit filed last month, Greene reportedly alleged one the film’s characters – Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff – wrongfully depicted his time working at Stratton Oakmont in the mid-1990s.

Greene filed his defamation lawsuit in a federal courthouse in New York and alleged libel and invasions to his rights to privacy and to control the commercial use of his likeness.

Specifically, in his complaint, Greene claims he was damaged by the Koskoff character because he “is portrayed participating in activities that are improper, unprofessional and unethical.”

The Motion to Dismiss pooh-poohs Greene’s claim, stating he is an inactive member of the State Bar of California and was motivated to bring this claim only because of his current application to join the State Bar of New York.

A key component of an application to join a State’s Bar is moral turpitude in past dealings and experiences. Accordingly, if the Koskoff character – portrayed by actor P.J. Byrne – was an accurate depiction of Greene’s real-life work, it could negatively impact his New York Bar application.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Koskoff was a significant element of the drugs, partying, and sex depicted in the film. Byrne explained in an interview with OK! Magazine he snorted Vitamin B to emulate doing lines of cocaine, had fake sex in front of the camera, and wore candy underwear.

“[The Wolf of Wall Street] is a dramatization inspired by true events surrounding the hundreds of millions of dollars of securities fraud perpetrated by a company called Stratton Oakmont. As explained in the Film’s credits, the Film employed composite characters to tell the story of the antiheroic protagonist, Jordan Belfort,” the Motion to Dismiss stated.

Petrich and his co-counsel, New York attorneys Katherine M. Bolger and Rachel F. Strom, alleged in their Motion to Dismiss that Greene had his hands dirty and was instrumental to perpetuating fraud while at Stratton Oakmont.

“Greene was an attorney intimately involved in the pervasive fraud and corruption that characterized the Stratton Oakmont securities operation in the 1990s,” the Motion to Dismiss stated.

The attorneys also assert First Amendment rights to free speech, as “a dramatic motion picture outweigh [Greene’s] statutory privacy rights.”

Wolf of Wall Street
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is at the heart of a defamation lawsuit. (Thinkstock)

“Nobody can reasonably dispute that the Film is about the bizarre travesty that was Stratton Oakmont, and that plaintiff was one of the malefactors whose central role in Stratton Oakmont inspired Mr. Scorsese’s film,” the Motion to Dismiss concluded. “But no claim for invasion of privacy or libel can be made because plaintiff’s name, image and likeness were not used, and the Film is an artistic work outside the scope of the statute’s concern with uses for advertising or trade.

“No claim for libel can be made because no character in the Film was Andrew Greene, so that the Film’s portrayal of ‘Nicky Koskoff’ was not ‘of and concerning’ Andrew Greene.”

In the case the New York federal court would rule otherwise, the Motion to Dismiss still assert Greene has no claim because entertainment properties are generally outside the scope of likeness protections. Courts have usually sided with defense, especially in the context of Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld, where multiple real life public personalities have been the center of comedic sketches and storylines.

Joining Paramount Pictures as co-defendants are Appian Way, Red Granite Pictures, and Sikelia Productions.

Petrich’s office is located at 2049 Century Park East, Suite 3110, in Century City.

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