LOS ANGELES, DEC. 6 -- Closing arguments were held in Superior Court here today in the second phase of the lawsuit between syndicated columnist Art Buchwald and Paramount Pictures over the authorship and profits of Eddie Murphy's hit movie "Coming to America." Put simply by Buchwald attorney Pierce O'Donnell, the arguments came down to this: "Paramount says a deal is a deal. We say it was a raw deal."

Buchwald won the first phase of the trial when Judge Harvey Schneider ruled that "Coming to America" was based on an idea Buchwald sold to Paramount in 1983. That entitled Buchwald and his producer, Alain Bernheim, to as much as 40 percent of the film's net profits. But Paramount then claimed that under the terms of Buchwald's contract the $300 million picture made no net profits.

Buchwald's attorneys then argued in the trial's second phase that the contract itself, a standard Hollywood agreement, is unfair or "unconscionable." Specifically, they argued that Paramount's distribution and overhead fees -- which total more than 50 percent of the overall cost of the picture -- stack the deck against profit participants by sliding the "break-even" point into a constantly receding horizon.

Speaking for Paramount, attorney Charles Diamond argued today that nothing in the contract "shocks the conscience."

Twice during the two-hour proceedings, Diamond raised the argument that Paramount's high distribution and overhead fees were justified because of the risky nature of the film business -- an argument he had abandoned earlier in the trial after Buchwald's attorneys demanded that Paramount open its books to prove it. The judge stopped Diamond. "It sounds like you're injecting risk analysis into it, but you don't want an examination of your books and records," he said.

Toward the end of the proceedings, Schneider asked a number of questions about how he could satisfy Buchwald if he did find Paramount's fees and net profit formula unconscionable. O'Donnell said he wanted his legal costs and a reasonable profit, and there was "no dodging the bullet. The court in the third phase {of the trial} would have to seek numbers -- a true accounting."

Diamond objected heatedly, telling the judge, "You don't have the authority to rewrite this contract."

"You already made that argument," Schneider said. "Assuming you're wrong, and I do {find the fees} unconscionable, what do you say?"

"I don't have a response," said Diamond. "We made a deal, we paid a price." Now the judge seemed to be ready to grant Buchwald and Bernheim what Paramount would never have given them in negotiations. "How can you do that?" he said.

Schneider said he wasn't sure if he could. He promised a decision "soon."

Buchwald was present for the final arguments. "The best case is that we set a precedent for future contracts," he said during a break. Afterward he said he "couldn't tell" how things went. "All I know is one minute they were saying {the idea} was a piece of crap, the next minute it's 'War and Peace.' "