Jack Thompson is back in the news and as it’s been a while since we last checked in with everybody’s favorite disbarred and disgraced former attorney, I thought this might be an opportune time to do some catching up.
2009 has been a busy year for Jack. Say what you will about the man, but there’s no denying his dedication to his cause: When it comes to crusading against videogames, he’s a dog with a bone. Earlier in the year, his efforts to neuter ESRB game ratings enforcement in Utah via an amendment to the state’s Truth in Advertising Act drew considerable attention; essentially, Thompson wanted to open videogame retailers in Utah to lawsuits if they sold an M-rated game to a minor, even mistakenly, if they advertised that they would not do so.
The bill was enthusiastically supported by both the Utah Senate and House of Representatives, two political bodies that obviously believe very strongly in thinking of the children, before coming to Governor Jon Huntsman for final approval. To the surprise of virtually everyone, he vetoed the thing, expressing reservations over both the Constitutionality of the bill and the chilling effect it would have on retailer enforcement of existing videogame ratings. It was a stunning application of reason and common sense from a politician and normally would’ve been the end of matters. But Thompson was unwilling to simply walk away.
If his reaction to the veto of the Utah bill was predictable, its intensity was not. After failing to work up an appetite among legislators to have the veto overturned, he demanded that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff prosecute retailers who sold “pornographic” (ie., violent) videogames to minors and threatened to proceed with “legal action” against him if he declined to do so. Thompson and Shurtleff have a history: In 2007, he attempted to have the Utah Attorney General impeached for suggesting that a Thompson-authored bill from 2006 was unconstitutional and that bad blood was apparent in the header of a copy of that email he sent to GamePolitics in which he referred to Shurtleff as “dead meat.” Shurtleff blew off the threat (and Thompson’s legal acumen) while Representative Mike Morley, who had sponsored Thompson’s bill in the first place, said he knew nothing about it.
Never one to take “no” for an answer, Thompson turned up the rhetoric and began to spread it around. In follow-up emails sent to Shurtleff and others including Utah State Senate President Michael Waddoups and Gayle Ruzicka, president of the hard-right Utah Eagle Forum and one of Thompson’s most steadfast allies, he called the Utah A.G. “corrupt” and “cowardly,” said he was “on the take” and claimed he was abusing the Attorney General’s office to “facilitate the distribution of pornography… to kids throughout Utah.” Always willing to antagonize allies as well as opponents, he then took Ruzicka to task for being “unwilling to see what is devouring” her children and grandchildren, calling it predictable and sad.
It reached the point that Utah State Senate President Michael Waddoups issued an ultimatum of his own: If Thompson didn’t stop bombarding him with emails he’d find himself being prosecuted under the CAN-SPAM Act. “I asked you before to remove me from your mailing list,” Waddoups wrote in a terse final message. “I supported your bill but because of the harassment will not again. If I am not removed I will turn you over to the AG [Attorney General] for legal action.” Bizarre as it may be, this behavior wasn’t without precedent; in his 2008 bar trial it was revealed that Thompson sent so many faxes to Alabama Judge James Moore in 2005 that it actually broke the poor man’s fax machine.
Waddoups’ threat may have ended the Utah episode, but the show goes on. In fact, Thompson has headed back to Louisiana, a state that made his acquaintance through a prior attempt at legislating game sales that was struck down by the court in December 2006. That case holds a special spot in the hearts of gamers everywhere thanks to the unabashedly harsh ruling of Judge James L. Brady, who said he was “dumbfounded” by the state’s decision to enact a clearly unconstitutional law which ended up costing the state $92,000 in ESA legal fees, adding, “The taxpayers deserve more from their elected officials.”
This time around, Thompson has managed to convince Louisiana Senator A.G. Crowe to introduce a truth in advertising bill that he described as “nearly identical” to the one vetoed in Utah. Notwithstanding the fact that Governor Huntsman’s concerns about the bill, Constitutional and otherwise, apply every bit as much in Louisiana as they do in Utah, the move is interesting because of Thompson’s pre-existing history with the state. But Crowe is either unaware of or unconcerned by Thompson’s previous Louisiana bill and the uproar that followed: In that case, much like in Utah, Thompson blew up in the face of his allies, questioning the competence of the Louisiana Attorney General and his deputy and demanding that then-Governor Kathleen Blanco assign someone else to defend the bill’s constitutionality in court.
But his Utah implosion and upcoming second round with the Bayou State surely pale in comparison to today’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States not to hear Thompson’s appeal of his lifetime disbarment. It’s not an especially surprising bit of news – the odds of the Supreme Court even considering his appeal, much less granting it, were virtually zero – but it is nonetheless momentous because for all intents and purposes it marks the final chapter of Thompson’s legal career. Thompson quickly issued a comment saying that his failed Supreme Court bid was not his last, or even best, chance to re-enter the legal arena and claimed that he had “four more options, all better than [the Supreme Court]” available to him. What those options might be remains unknown at this point; Thompson declined to clarify the remark, saying only, “The last people I would tell would be the game enthusiast media.”
But even assuming his claims are pure bluster and bravado and that his career as a lawyer has finally and irrevocably drawn to a close, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest we’ve heard the last of Jack Thompson. As his recent spate of activity shows, being disbarred has had very little impact on his desire or ability to wreak havoc. It may actually drive him to pursue his agenda even more aggressively. His future as an attorney is over, but his future as a strident, irrational videogame critic seems assured.
Andy Chalk doesn’t spend nearly as much time talking about Thompson as he used to.