Q&A: Meet the lawyer trying to bring down 'Jersey Shore'

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Q&A: Meet the lawyer trying to bring down 'Jersey Shore'

Tue Aug 31, 2010 @ 10:32AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Jersey_shore_mtvFans of MTV's "Jersey Shore" love the outsized personalities and the occasional fisticuffs. But it's hard to throw a punch without making some enemies, and chief among them might be New Jersey-based attorney Eugene Lavergne.

He isn't the only lawyer going after MTV and parent Viacom for airing the show. But in the past year, Lavergne has filed three separate "Jersey" lawsuits. From his first case on behalf of client Stephen Izzo, Jr., the alleged victim of a punch from one of the cast members, to his latest case on behalf of a woman identified as J.P., an alleged victim of the show's security staff, Lavergne has been pushing New Jersey judges to accept the notion that "Jersey" has all the characteristics of a racketeering enterprise. Which Lavergne says makes Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone the equivalent of a mob boss.

THR, Esq: Do you have anything personal against the show? 

Lavergne: To be honest, I couldn't care less about the show. I'm part-Italian and I've been contacted by the Anti-Defamation League, but I regard the show as a trashy one that wouldn't be worth my time if I wasn't representing clients. The only reason I watch is because I have to for this litigation. I've represented Izzo for years, and agreed to help him with this case. Since then, I've been contacted by others who have heard about me through the Izzo case.

THR, Esq: Nevertheless, you're becoming the go-to lawyer to press claims against the show, and you've pursued numerous attempts to shut it down via injunctions. 

Lavergne: The threshold for getting an injunction is high and I knew we weren't going to get it, but it was a necessary step in pressing RICO [the federal racketeering statute]. Sumner Redstone is the functional equivalent of [famed ex-crime boss] Vito Genovese. They are able to get millions of dollars in profits off of criminal activities. That's exactly what RICO is and I think judges will see that.

THR, Esq: If not an injunction, what are you really hoping for here?

Lavergne: Well, for instance, we're having a hearing soon about the intoxication of J.P. If a court determines she was intoxicated [and show producers were complicit], the show will have huge problems. They will have to excise that scene or that episode.

THR, Esq: Are you surprised that a show filmed in your neck of the woods has engendered so many lawsuits?

Lavergne: It doesn't surprise me at all based on what they are doing. I'd be more surprised if there weren't any repercussions for a group going out, getting drunk, and smacking people. It's almost comical that [MTV and Viacom] are letting this happen. The stuff they don't show is even worse than what's airing. Take the fight with J.P. The whole unedited footage goes on for eight minutes! They are spurring this on. Instead of stopping it, they encourage it. There's no plausible deniability about their knowledge in the crimes and that's why I think it's certainly like the Genovese situation.

THR, Esq: Some plaintiffs in these "Jersey" cases have signed waivers and some haven't. As long as those who don't sign waivers aren't identified, what about the First Amendment? Don't TV producers have a right to stand back and just film reality?

Lavergne: Not to brag too much, I'm an expert in constitutional law and civil rights, and there is absolutely no First Amendment right to committing an offense. They are complicit here. If this passes muster, I'm going to start a show called "Date Rape." We're going to get girls drunk and argue they signed a waiver. The whole thing is preposterous.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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