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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

He Already Had His ‘Dog Day’ in Court, Judges Say

(CN) - The "jail-house lawyer" who represented the bank-robbing muse behind the 1975 Al Pacino blockbuster "Dog Day Afternoon" must stop trying to get royalties from filmmakers, a New York appeals court ruled.

"Dog Day Afternoon" was inspired by a 1972 bank robbery in Brooklyn, N.Y., as reported by Life magazine. Pacino's character Sonny Wojtowicz was based on John Wojtowicz who was arrested after keeping bank employees hostage for 14 hours.

The accomplice to the bank robbery, Sal Naturile, was killed by FBI agents.

While serving out his sentence at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times about his reaction to the film.

Wojtowicz's letter explains his motivation for the robbery - to finance a sex-change operation for the man who would later become his second wife - and then mentions George Heath, a fellow inmate whom he describes as his "jail-house lawyer."

Warner Brothers worked out a deal with Wojtowicz, giving him 1 percent of the royalties for "Dog Day Afternoon," according to court records. Heath was entitled to 16 2/3 percent of that figure.

Wojtowicz died in 2006 at the age of 60, and Heath demanded additional royalties.

A Manhattan judge denied Heath's motion, and the appellate division affirmed on Nov. 17, taking an extra step to bar Heath from making similar attempts going forward.

"Plaintiff's claim was previously litigated; it was determined that he is due 16 2/3 percent of the 1 percent of royalties owed to his predecessor, the late John S. Wojtowicz, and that determination was affirmed by this court," the brief decision states. "Accordingly, the plaintiff is barred by the doctrine of res judicata from relitigating this claim.

"Furthermore, given plaintiff's pattern of continuous and vexatious litigation concerning this subject matter for the past few decades, an injunction barring him from commencing new actions or proceedings seeking royalties from the film is warranted," the judges added.

"Dog Day Afternoon" was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for best original screenplay.

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