Who deserves credit for the success of ''Bringing Down the House,'' which has been the No. 1 movie at the box office for three weeks and has earned about $87 million to date? Maybe it's Queen Latifah, who starred in and coproduced the film. Maybe it's costar Steve Martin. Or maybe it's Marie Flaherty. Who? Flaherty is a New York lawyer and screenwriter who says that ''Bringing'' infringed the copyright of a screenplay she wrote, and she's suing Latifah and others involved in producing the movie for a piece of the action.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit, filed Friday in Manhattan, alleges that Flaherty wrote a screenplay years ago called ''Amoral Dilemma,'' about a lawyer who meets a convict online, who proceeds to turn his life upside-down. Flaherty says she hired attorney George Tobia to represent her in her effort to sell the movie in 1999. Months later, she says, Tobia informed her that he and a family friend, Jason Filardi, had sold a script called ''Jailbabe.com,'' which eventually became ''Bringing Down the House.'' (Filardi is the sole credited screenwriter on the film.) Flaherty says that, despite the seeming similarities in the premise, Tobia told her that Filardi's script was a comedy, while hers was a drama.
Flaherty is seeking a minimum of $15 million in damages, a figure that could rise with the film's grosses. Tobia, Filardi, and the production team -- including Latifah, Hyde Park Entertainment, and distributor Disney -- are named as defendants. (As a hired player, Martin was not named.) Latifah and Tobia have declined to comment on the suit.