Strategy & Competition

Legal Blogger, Prime-Time Prospect


Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said Sony Pictures bought the rights to Tom Goldstein's story. The company allowed those rights to expire.

Tom Goldstein has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of shoppers who overpaid for vitamins, fellow lawyers facing court sanctions, and disabled passengers unhappy with their treatment on cruises. But he had no idea mundane legal issues might make for riveting television. "If you knew my life, you would not think it is the stuff of television drama," says the 39-year-old Goldstein, who has argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court since 1999.

Hollywood thinks otherwise. Sony Pictures Television (SNE) once held the rights to Goldstein's life story and NBC has commissioned a pilot for the series, tentatively titled Tommy Supreme. Past TV shows that centered on the High Court met with swift and unpleasant verdicts. But then, they didn't feature a poker-playing barrister with a social conscience to help enliven the court's often fusty proceedings.

The new series would center on a younger version of Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington who also runs the Scotusblog.com Web site that tracks the inner workings of the High Court. (Scotus is legal shorthand for the Supreme Court of the U.S.) The hard-charging Goldstein argued his first Supreme Court case at 28—for free.

With Sony having let its option lapse, a script is being written. Actors haven't been cast. Still, Goldstein said, if the show is fast-tracked, it could find a spot on NBC as early as next fall.

The show's protagonist is an idealist fresh out of law school who argues Supreme Court cases. In true Hollywood fashion, he will butt heads aplenty with big companies and the government, Goldstein said.

The real-life Tommy Supreme co-chairs a litigation practice with 250 lawyers who bring in $200 million in revenue annually. His clients have ranged from medical products maker Teleflex to the Los Angeles Police Dept. And he's been named one of GQ magazine's 50 Most Powerful People in Washington.

The show will dramatize cases that "can translate to the average worker, issues that are humanized," says Barry Schindel, a former public defender who has produced episodes of Law & Order and is writing the pilot's script.

The pilot is based on an actual international child abduction case handled by Goldstein's real-life wife, Amy Howe, who had been his law partner until he joined Akin Gump in 2006. The case, which the High Court heard on Jan. 12, focuses on whether a mother who took a child out of Chile against the wishes of the father (Howe's client) must return the child.

Schindel said another possible show could dramatize the court's June 2009 ruling in favor of white firefighters in New Haven, who claimed they suffered reverse discrimination. Goldstein wasn't actually involved in that case, either. But this is Hollywood.

As the show's consultant, Goldstein meets with Schindel to answer questions on how the court works and other legal matters. He realizes some accuracy may get lost for the sake of entertainment. For example, his TV alter-ego will bankroll his law practice with his winnings at the poker table. Goldstein, who has played in the World Series of Poker tournament, never did.

"There is that gap between the lawyers' world and dramas and entertainment," Goldstein said. "You have to expect that there will be added elements."

McQuillen is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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