WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court sidestepped Monday a brawl between former professional hockey player Tony Twist and a comic strip creator who named a violent mafia character after him.
Twist claims that the character in the "Spawn" comic series hurt his image and cost him endorsements. The high court rejected without comment an appeal from "Spawn" creator Todd McFarlane, who argued that his work was free speech.
McFarlane had a team of Hollywood backers, including Michael Crichton, creator of the television series "ER;" Larry David, co-creator of "Seinfeld;" novelists Scott Turow and Jeremiah Healy; and actor-comedian Harry Shearer from "The Simpsons."
They urged the court to use the case to clarify free-speech protections for artists, who routinely use the names of famous figures in their works.
The character, Antonio "Tony Twist" Twistelli, was not only used in the comic strip, it was also featured in an HBO spin-off show and on some hockey merchandise, Twist's lawyer told justices.
The real Twist, a former National Hockey League player known more for his fighting than his skating, was awarded more than $24.5 million by a Missouri jury. The award was overturned on appeal, but a court ordered a second trial. The case is McFarlane v. Twist, 03-615.
Also Monday, the Supreme Court:
- Rejected the appeal of a Manhattan art dealer convicted in 2002 of plotting to smuggle an ancient bust of a pharaoh out of Egypt. Frederick Schultz, who was sentenced to nearly three years in prison, wanted the court to use his appeal to clarify the scope of a stolen property law. His lawyers told justices in a filing that tourists, museums, dealers and collectors could be prosecuted for having cultural objects from many countries. The case is Schultz v. United States, 03-592.
- Left undisturbed a ruling that upheld a ban on so-called junk faxes. An appeals court had ruled that the government has a substantial interest in protecting the public from unwanted fax advertisements. That decision upheld the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which regulates telemarketing calls and also contains prohibitions against junk faxes. The case was prompted by a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon against California-based Fax.com Inc. Lawyers for Fax.com told the justices that the law is being used to drive companies out of business. The case is Fax.com v. Missouri, 03-507.
- Declined to review an appeal from a man found guilty of voting fraud in 1999, for voting at one address while living at another. The case is O'Hara v. New York, 03-669.
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