HBO files Gandolfini countersuit

Times Staff Writer

HBO fired back Tuesday in the escalating legal battle with "The Sopranos" star James Gandolfini, filing a $100-million countersuit against the actor who has sued to leave the cable network's popular drama in a contract dispute.

HBO alleged in its suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that Gandolfini's claims in the lawsuit he filed last week "were not only spurious, they were frivolous."

The HBO suit added that if the Emmy-winning actor follows through on his threat not to show up when "The Sopranos" resumes production March 24, HBO will have to abandon the series and suffer losses in excess of $100 million.

Said HBO attorney Bert Fields: "The loss that James Gandolfini would cause would be huge if this series went down the drain. Obviously we can't do the show without him." The suit said that Gandolfini's "conduct" had prompted HBO to "give other 'Sopranos' cast members notice that their employment on the series might be suspended or terminated."

Fields added that Gandolfini's action came when the network was negotiating with him to increase his salary, reported to be about $400,000 per episode. Despite an offer of "a very extensive increase," Gandolfini wanted even more, Fields said.

Martin Singer, Gandolfini's attorney, did not respond immediately for comment.

Gandolfini has charged that HBO violated a clause in his contract when it failed to notify him of a $20-million deal it had struck with the drama's creator, David Chase, for a fifth season. He said in the suit he learned of the deal in a July 17, 2001, Wall Street Journal article, and that he had no legal obligation to act in the series unless he was notified within 10 business days of Chase's deal, which he said HBO failed to do.

The actor's lawsuit also alleged that his contract was in violation of California labor laws limiting "personal service" contracts to seven years.

Fields said that since the series is shot in New Jersey and New York, and since Gandolfini is a resident of New York, that part of the lawsuit had no merit.

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