Are lives really at stake in the legal fight over Louisiana's video game law, or has the situation devolved into a finger-pointing battle of bruised egos?
Over the last 18 months GamePolitics has reported extensively on anti-game attorney Jack Thompson's relentless crusade against video game violence. Nowhere during that time has Thompson enjoyed the kind of political success he found recently in Louisiana. Readers will recall that Thompson drafted the state's video game law, testified on its behalf, and basked in its unanimous approval by the legislature.
The video game industry, of course, mounted a legal challenge, contesting the law's constitutionality. And it is on that playing field that Thompson has dropped the ball - in more ways than one. Especially regrettable is Thompson's ugly feud with the Louisiana Attorney General's office.
Thompson has recently - and publicly - expressed the view that A.G. Charles Foti and his deputy, Burton Guidry, bungled the legal defense of the video game law. It's difficult to see how, since, from the standpoint of constitutional precedent, the deck was always stacked against the Louisiana bill - despite Thompson's claims that it would survive legal challenge.
Of particular concern, however, is Thompson's unwillingness to share so-called expert witnesses and information with the A.G.'s office in the wake of this dust-up. The Miami attorney wrote in an August 7th e-mail to Louisiana officials:
"I have just instructed all of my... experts in the Alabama wrongful death case, all of whom have testified before Congress about the need for your kind of law, to have NOTHING whatsoever to do with your litigation in Louisiana unless I approve it... Lives are at stake, while your Mr. Foti does press conferences on Hurricane Katrina... "
That Thompson would even think of comparing the relative importance of the video game issue to the ongoing Katrina recovery process is offensive. Meanwhile, via e-mail, Burton Guidry complained last week to Rep. Roy Burrell, sponsor of the legislation, about Thompson's hard-line stance:
"Unfortunately we have no facts or experts to contradict their motions due to Mr. Thompsons reluctance to help. We have very little choice but to wait for the bomb to fall."
"The bomb," of course, would be the federal court's final determination that the law is unconstitutional.
If, as Thompson claims, there are truly "lives at stake," how can he think of withholding his full cooperation from Louisiana officials?
Whether Thompson is motivated by simple pique or a genuine disagreement with the A.G. doesn't really matter at this point. To borrow a football analogy, it's 4th-and-long in Baton Rouge - time for Thompson to show that he can be a team player, not Terrell Owens with a law degree.
Not that we think it's going to make much of a difference - this law will be overturned by the court just as its predecessors were. But it was Jack Thompson who jumped into the Louisiana video game fray with both feet, giving assurances that his bill was better than previous efforts, more narrowly crafted and proof from constitutional challenges.
Somehow, things aren't quite working out as advertised.
Whether or not the anti-game activist approves of the Louisiana A.G. is irrelevant. Rep. Roy Burrell and his colleagues put their trust in Jack Thompson when they fast-tracked this law through the legislative process. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco put her trust in Jack Thompson when she signed the bill into law. They now have every right to expect Thompson's full cooperation in defense of the video game legislation.
Win or lose, Jack Thompson has an obligation to see this fight through.
UPDATE: Thompson takes exception to today's GP editorial, writing in part, "I have repeatedly offered to help Lousiana win this court fight if the Governor will do what is necessary to stop the laydown by AG Foti's office."
GP has, in fact, previously reported Thompson's position of withholding his experts unless Gov. Blanco stepped in, a move it's pretty obvious she is not prepared to make.