Multi-millionaire film producer Steve Bing has lost the first round in his legal battle with rugged actor SEAN PENN - after a judge threw part of his lawsuit out of court.

The pair became locked in a bitter dispute about their as-yet-unmade comedy WHY MEN SHOULDN'T MARRY, after Penn left the Bing produced project - with the former claiming he was sacked, and the latter alleging Penn walked off the film.

Madonna's ex-husband is now suing Bing for $10 million (GBP6 million), claiming he lost his role in the film because Bing objected to Penn's highly publicised opposition to the war in Iraq.

Bing, father to actress Elizabeth Hurley's son DAMIAN, is counter-suing Penn, saying the Dead Man Walking actor tried to blackmail him with a potentially damaging audio tape that he demanded $10 million (GBP6.25 million) not to publicise

However, Bing has suffered the first blow in the legal wrangle after Los Angeles Superior Court JUDGE IRVING FEFFER ruled yesterday (23JUN03) that his claim for civil extortion did not exist in Californian law.

Bing's lawyers say the irate Kangaroo Jack producer will re-submit the extortion suit to a state appeals court, yet in court papers Penn has accused Bing of "borrowing a page from the dark era of Hollywood blacklisting".

Eccentric Hollywood producer Woody Allen has already been lined up to work on the project, and Bing is saying the $15 million (GBP9.4 million) Penn is claiming should go towards the New York film-maker's fees and pre-production costs.

24/06/2003 13:38