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Why Law & Order Was Once Sued By A Real Lawyer

Dick Wolf isn't afraid of running out of ideas for the "Law & Order" franchise. The creator has stated that he's inspired by the daily headlines, which always produce stories about crime and scandals. However, while real-world stories have informed the procedural franchise for over 30 years, this approach has also led to some legal nightmares for the creators behind the scenes.

In 2004, New York attorney Ravi Batra filed a suit against 35 defendants, including Wolf and NBC Universal, for libel-in-fiction. According to The New York Times, the attorney argued that the "Law & Order" character Ravi Patel (Eric Avari) — an Indian-American lawyer who bribes a Supreme Court judge in one episode — was based on him. As documented by The Hollywood Reporter, Batra was also closely affiliated with a politician who allegedly accepted bribes in the past, and the episode in question, "Floater," deals with similar subjects. That said, it's worth noting that Batra has never been found guilty of bribing anyone.

Wolf's lawyers argued that the similarities were abstract. However, due to the uniqueness of the character's name, ethnicity, and appearance, the real-life attorney felt that there was a clear connection to him and that the episode was defamatory. Furthermore, those identifiable traits could also be obvious to viewers who were familiar with Batra at the time.

The Law & Order lawsuit was a 'landmark case'

As The Hollywood Reporter article noted, Justice Marilyn Shafir stated that ordinary viewers could potentially mistake the "Law & Order" character's corruption as being truthful in regard to Ravi Batra. Therefore, the case was moved forward to the discovery round, which pleased the real-life attorney.

"This is a landmark case," Batra told The New York Times, "because the impartiality and independence of the judiciary is critical to society, and 'Law & Order,' a reality show, recklessly undermined public confidence in the rule of law and the noble judiciary." Of course, it's worth pointing out that "Law & Order" isn't a reality show, even though some storylines are ripped straight from the headlines.

Meanwhile, Curt King, a spokesperson for NBC Universal, told the New York Times that no character in the episode represents Batra. Additionally, he noted that the defense was confident about the case going in their favor. "No character in the 'Law & Order' episode at issue depicts Ravi Batra," he said. "We are confident that when the evidence is considered (which it is not on a motion to dismiss), it will demonstrate that NBC did not defame Mr. Batra."