Jack Thompson Threatens Entire Utah Legislature with Prosecution

May 26, 2009 -

It has been more than a month since Gov. Jon Huntsman vetoed Jack Thompson's video game bill, but the disbarred attorney continues to wage an e-mail war with various Utah government officials. In his latest and most bizarre salvo, Thompson has threatened to have the entire Utah legislature - all 104 House and Senate members - prosecuted by the F.B.I. for violating his civil rights.

GamePolitics readers will recall that in April State Senate President Michael Waddoups asked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (another favorite target of Thompson's vitriol) to look into prosecuting Thompson for alleged spam. The Senate President was offended by an Easter morning e-mail from Thompson which included a screenshot of a pair of strippers giving GTA IV protagonist Nico Bellic a lap dance. Last week Thompson wrote to the F.B.I.'s Salt Lake City Field Office seeking the prosecution of Waddoups for supposedly infringing on his right to petition the government.

An e-mail circulated by Thompson on Sunday indicates that a second legislator, Rep. Curtis Oda, apparently took objection to the anti-game activist's messages (we haven't seen Oda's e-mail to Thompson). Thompson responded with his threat to prosecute the Utah legislature:

If I get one more threat of criminal prosecution for sending you all proof, as I have, that pornographic video games are being sold to children in Utah because of the willful refusal of your Attorney General to enforce your state's pornography laws, then I will add ALL of you to the sworn criminal complaint now in the hands of the FBI in Salt Lake City.  You will be identified as co-conspirators to violate 18 USC 241 and 242...

Maybe the real problem here is that Utah, as a recent study proves, leads the nation in consumption of on-line porn.  Maybe some among you are into this stuff, and you feel threatened...

I'm not going to put up with it.  I've taken down some of the largest pornographers in the world.  Taking down your legislature will be a piece of cake by comparison.

GP: This year's near-success marked Thompson's third attempt at game legislation in the Utah legislature. However, following the disbarred attorney's spectacular display of bridge burning following Gov. Huntsman's veto, we don't advise holding your breath waiting for a fourth Thompson appearance in the Beehive State.

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Utah Bill Sponsor Apologizes to Colleagues for Jack Thompson

April 22, 2009 -

Although anti-game activist Jack Thompson's latest campaign to pass video game legislation in Utah got off to a fast start, it is ending both unsuccessfully and with rancor.

In the latest development, GamePolitics has learned that Rep. Mike Morley (R), the Utah House sponsor of the Thompson-authored HB 353, circulated an e-mail to his legislative colleagues last week in which he apologized for Thompson's behavior.

Morley's apology came in response to the flap caused by an Easter Sunday e-mail sent by Thompson to numerous Utah legislators. The e-mail, which ultimately prompted State Sen. President Michael Waddoups (R) to threaten Thompson with prosecution, depicted GTA IV 's Nico Bellic receiving a lap dance from a pair of strippers. Thompson also included links to videos of graphic GTA IV content.

Here is Morley's e-mail:

Subject: My apologies for Jack Thompson
Dear Fellow House Members:

Over the past few days, I have received three emails from Jack Thompson regarding his concerns about mature video games being sold to minors.  Certainly, I am concerned about the graphic violence and sexuality of some of the mature video games, I am apalled by his use of what I view as pornographic images.  I want to make it clear that I had no previous knowledge of his intention to send the images and I apologize to each of you who received his email and were offended as I was.

Mr. Thompson is a nation [sic] advocate for this cause, but he doesn't speak for me nor do I condone or appreciate his actions nor some his tactics.

Mike Morley

When asked for comment by GamePolitics, Thompson said that he hadn't seen Morley's e-mail and "couldn't care less." Within minutes, however, he fired off an e-mail of his own to Utah largely conservative legislators:

I understand that Mike Morley apologized to you all for the shocking image I sent you of two women in bikinis in a strip club.  Sorry, Utahns, but you can see that on a beach.  To see more explicit material as to what is in the GTA IV game, you had to click on the two links I provided, and that was your choice. I warned you what you would see if  you chose to do so.
 
Mike Morley's apology is ridiculous.  I didn't scandalous [sic] anyone with an image of two clad women.  What is really going on here is that I upset the Republican club that runs Utah, and those in that club are seizing upon this harmless image as a ruse to scold the outsider who unfortunately showed that some in Utah aren't serious about protecting children.  Your Governor isn't serious, and we sure as heck know your AG is not.  Heck, he takes money from the video game industry to say how well the ratings are working... Incredible.
 
The only apology that is owed is by each of you for not insisting upon an override session [of Gov. Huntsman's HB 353 veto]...  Your family values stance is a sham.  

GP: Pictured: Gov. Huntsman, Rep. Morley, Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, Thompson.

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Following Tumultuous Utah Stint, Jack Thompson Heads to Louisiana

April 16, 2009 -

Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best: It's like deja vu all over again.

On the heels of ugly, public dust-ups with both the Utah Attorney General and the President of the Utah State Senate, Jack Thompson is taking his pursuit of video game legislation to Louisiana.

Again.

On Friday Sen. A.G. Crowe (R, at left) will introduce SB 152. The bill, with the addition of a few bells and whistles, is essentially the same truth in advertising measure that passed the Utah legislature in March, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Last week Thompson circulated a press release indicating that a bill "nearly identical" to his failed Utah legislation would be proposed in Louisiana. While he did not name the sponsor, GamePolitics has learned that it is Sen. Crowe. In the press release, Thompson said that he expects to testify before the Louisiana legislature along with "four experts."

Sen. Crowe is apparently untroubled by the acrimony that marked Thompson's 2006 attempt to legislate video games in Louisiana. At that time a Thompson-authored bill unanimously passed both houses of the Louisiana legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The measure was eventually ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but not before Thompson got into an ugly, public dispute with the Louisiana Attorney General's Office (see: Suddenly Thompson is Feuding With Former Louisiana Allies).

Since Thompson's last chaotic go-round in Louisiana, he was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for more than two dozen professional misconduct violations. Thompson has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the failed 2006 legislation ultimately cost Louisiana $91,000 in video game industry legal fees, it also provided some typically bombastic Thompson quotes, including: Nobody shoots anybody in the face unless you're a hit man or a video gamer.

For more background on Thompson's earlier Louisiana experience, check out The Circus Comes to Louisiana, a piece I wrote for Joystiq in 2006.

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Jack Thompson Criticized by Utah Senate Website over E-mail Flap

April 15, 2009 -

In our previous story GamePolitics broke the news that Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups (R) threatened to have anti-game activist Jack Thompson prosecuted if Thompson did not stop sending him e-mail.

In a remarkable development, a website run by Utah Senate Republicans has publicly taken Thompson to task over the issue:

Jack Thompson sends a lot of Email.

At 6:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday he sent another Email message to a group of contacts and highlighted a picture that, if not legally pornographic, was certainly offensive.

President Waddoups was on the recipient list. He sent a polite but direct request back to Mr. Thompson:

    OK, I've had enough. Please remove me from your Email list.

Jack Thompson wrote back:

    Sir, did you look at the material being sold to minors in Utah that I sent you?

President Waddoups responded with a second request to be removed:

    Yes, I read them all and I got the picture. No more please.

Well . . . a few days went by with no relief. This morning Michael Waddoups – probably a little bugged - sent a third request to be removed from Thompson's Email list...

    I asked you before to remove me from your mailing list. 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 for legal action.

So Jack Thompson issued a press release... Jack Thompson might be right. He might be totally, completely, dead-on right on his video game issue. He might not (smart people can disagree). Either way, this behavior doesn't help his cause.

GP: It's not clear who edits the Utah Senate blog, but there is an offer to post the original e-mails if readers request them.

UPDATE: In order to provide some context to this story, in the comments section I've posted the (NSFW) GTA IV screenshot that apparently pushed Sen. Waddoups over the edge. It's clearly not pornographic although it is racy.

UPDATE 2: The Utah Senate Site has posted the series of e-mails between Sen. Waddoups and Thompson.

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Utah Senate President Wants to Prosecute Jack Thompson Under CAN-SPAM Act

April 14, 2009 -

It seems as though Jack Thompson may have burned his final bridge in Utah - and turned a former political ally into an adversary in the process.

In an e-mail sent out earlier today, Thompson claimed that Utah State Senate President Michael Waddoups (R, at left) has threatened to have him prosecuted if the disbarred attorney doesn't stop sending him e-mails.

Waddoups, who presided over the Utah Senate as it overwhelmingly passed Thompson's video game bill last month, apparently became upset by an Easter Sunday e-mail in which Thompson attacked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

As GamePolitics has reported, the disbarred Florida attorney and the popular Utah A.G. have been trading insults ever since the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman. On Sunday Thompson slammed Shurtleff in yet another e-mail which claimed that the A.G. is ignoring the sale of pornography to minors. That's a highly questionable assertion, since in this case Thompson is defining Grand Theft Auto IV as pornography.

To back up his point, Thompson included a screenshot depicting of a pair of strippers giving GTA IV protagonist Nico Bellic a lap dance. Why Waddoups reacted so strongly is not entirely clear, although it is possible that he was offended by the pic. Or perhaps he has grown weary of Thompson's persistent attacks on Gov. Huntsman and A.G. Shurtleff, both fellow Republicans. GamePolitics contacted Waddoups for comment, but the Senate President did not return our call.

In any case, Thompson supplied the text of an e-mail that he says he received from Waddoups earlier today:

I asked you before to remove me from your mailing list.  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 for legal action.

In response, Thomson re-sent the lapdance pic to the entire Utah legislature:

If you are offended by seeing this, as was Senate President Waddoups, then know that you should be more offended by the fact that Utah kids can buy the game in which there are repeated sexual encounters like this... 

You will apparently read in the Salt Lake Tribune tomorrow morning that Senator Waddoups has now threatened me with criminal prosecution by Mark Shurtleff for sending him “porn.”...  Mr. Waddoups now threatens me for alerting him to this... I look forward to my criminal prosecution in Utah...

GamePolitics readers may recall that Thompson has a bit of a track record for attaching actual porn - not the GTA virtual variety - to his e-mails. In 2007 a federal court judge and the Florida Supreme Court took him to task for doing so (see Judge Spanks Jack Thompson For Including Gay Porn in Court Filing).

UPDATE: The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Waddoups wants to pursue Thompson under federal anti-spam legislation:

Waddoups, on Tuesday, confirmed he would attempt to pursue legal action under the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

While that law carries a punishment of up to $11,000 in fines, it covers "e-mail whose primary advertisement purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service," according to the Federal Trade Commission.

UPDATE 2: Predictably, Thompson has written to the U.S. Attorney in Salt Lake City, urging that Waddoups be prosecuted for violating his civil rights. The letter, which we have also received via e-mail, can be viewed in the comments to the Salt Lake Tribune story.

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Video Game Bill Fuels Conservative Talk Radio in Utah

April 6, 2009 -

Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) may have vetoed HB 353, the Jack Thompson-devised video game bill, but the debate over the bill certainly hasn't ended.

Thompson recently spent two hours bashing the Guv, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the video game industry on the Utah Eagle Forum Radio Show.

A caller gets into a heated argument with Thompson and the program host at about 30 minutes into the second hour. A second caller gets into it with Thompson and the host right at the end of the second hour.

Of note, we didn't hear the word "disbarred" during the two-hour program.

You can catch the program here: Hour 1   Hour 2

HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (R) debates the merits of the bill with Sean Bersell, VP of Public Affairs on Inside Utah Politics (fast forward to 28:00).

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, urges an override of Huntsman's veto on yet another episode.

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Report: Override of Utah Guv's Game Bill Unlikely (but still possible)

April 5, 2009 -

An override of HB 353, the video game/movie bill vetoed recently by Gov. Jon Huntsman, seems unlikely, according to Utah's Deseret News.

Citing "legislative sources," the paper reports that a poll of lawmakers indicates that neither the Utah House nor the Senate have the two-thirds majority needed for an override session:

[Bill sponsor] Rep. Mike Morley... said he sent out a letter to his 74 House colleagues refuting some of the "misunderstandings" about his bill detailed in Huntsman's veto letter. Morley says his bill did not have constitutional problems.

Other than that, Morley said he has not tried to contact individual legislators seeking their support for an override session...

Senate President Michael Waddoups... said he believes he could get a two-thirds vote for an override, but if the House couldn't find two-thirds to override a vetoed bill sponsored by a House member (and both were), "we aren't going to go out on a limb if they don't want to do it."

The override deadline expires in May.

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Utah Attorney General to Thompson: Bring it on, Jack

April 1, 2009 -

On Monday GamePolitics reported on disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson's vague threat to "proceed" against Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) if the popular, third-term A.G. didn't immediately take action against major retailers like Best Buy, Target and Wal-mart for alleged sales of Grand Theft Auto IV to minors.

On that score, we should note that no law enforcement official anywhere in the United States has done what Thompson is suggesting Shurtleff do.

The backstory to Thompson's ire seems to stem from Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto last week of HB 353, the video game/movie bill conceived by Thompson. Following the veto, Shurtleff told the Salt Lake Tribune that he had been troubled by concerns about the legality of the bill. Going further back in history, in 2007 Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment after the A.G. gave a legal opinion that a measure proposed by Thompson was unconstitutional.

Given the nature of the public attacks on Shurtleff by Thompson (which include referring to the A.G. as "dead meat"), GamePolitics interviewed Attorney General Shurtleff yesterday on the HB 353 fallout:

GP: You’ve come under severe criticism from Jack Thompson in recent days in regard to the video game bill vetoed by Gov. Huntsman last week. Can you comment?

Shurtleff: Well, I just consider the source. I don’t take what Jack Thompson says – give it much credence. This latest demand that I prosecute certain crimes shows me that he knows about as much about criminal law as he does about constitutional law...

GP: Thompson, as you probably know, was given a lifetime disbarment last year by the Florida Supreme Court.

Shurtleff: Right. Yes.

GP: Given that fact, does it seem odd that he was invited to Utah and apparently met with the Lt. Governor and other political forces there to help craft the video game legislation?

Shurtleff: Yes. Absolutely. I do think that’s odd. I also think it’s odd that he received some kind of award from [the] 4th of July celebration in Provo last year. (click 'Read more' below for the rest...)

Jack Thompson Threatens to "Proceed" Against Utah Attorney General

March 30, 2009 -

In the fallout from his latest, apparently unsuccessful attempt to legislate video games in Utah, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson has issued a vague legal threat to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The popular Republican is serving his third term as Utah's top law enforcement officer.

On Friday the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Shurtleff had expressed concerns about the legality of HB 353, the Thompson-conceived video game bill which was vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman last week.

Thompson, clearly, was not thrilled with the news. He referred to Shurtleff as "dead meat" in the header of an e-mail forwarded to GamePolitics later on Friday.

A Sunday e-mail from Thompson to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Robert Gehrke (and cc:'d to GP) threatens to "proceed" against Shurtleff if the A.G. doesn't move against major retailers for what Thompson claims is "the distribution of pornography to minors in violation of state law." By way of defining porn, Thompson attached links to strip club and hooker scenes from Grand Theft Auto IV. However, while certainly not intended for younger buyers, GTA IV has not been declared obscene in any U.S. jurisdiction.

Oh, and there's a deadline for Shurtleff to act: 5:00 P.M. today.

As GamePolitics has previously reported, Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment in 2007 when the A.G. suggested that a piece of Thompson-authored video game legislation then before the Utah House was unconstitutional.

GamePolitics has requested comment on Thompson's threat from Rep. Mike Morley, the sponsor of HB 353, as well as from Gayle Ruzicka, the politically-powerful Thompson ally who heads the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum. We have also asked Shurtleff's office to comment. We'll post any comments that we receive.

UPDATE: Apparently unable to wait for his own 5:00 P.M. deadline, Thompson has written to Utah's Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman... Except that the person he addressed his letter to is a law enforcement director in Utah A.G.'s Office. The "porn czar" position was eliminated in 2003 for budgetary reasons - which may be an indication of how serious Thompson is about all of this.

UPDATE 2: Rep. Morley has commented to GamePolitics on Thompson's threat to "proceed" against Shurtleff: "I know nothing about that."

Hit the jump for Thompson's Sunday letter to Shurtleff, the "dead meat" e-mail and the new letter to the porn ombudsman:

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No Decision Yet on Override, Says Utah Video Game Bill Sponsor

March 30, 2009 -

The sponsor of Utah's HB 353 told GamePolitics that he is undecided as to whether he will seek an override of Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of the controversial measure.

Rep. Mike Morley (R) told us via e-mail:

As far as a potential override, I haven't decided whether or not to pursue that.  We'll see as we get a little further down the road.

Morley (left) also gave his reaction to Huntsman's veto:

I was somewhat surprised by the governor's veto and disappointed that he didn't contact me prior to the veto to discuss the issues.  I believe that his decision was made based on false or misleading information from the gaming industry which constituted nothing more than posturing.  The bill was carefully crafted to provide safe harbor for those retailers who followed their own advertising.

GP: To be fair, the decision on the override is not likely to be Morley's alone; Utah's House and Senate leadership will surely be involved. As GamePolitics reported last week, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R) termed an override unlikely, suggesting instead that HB 353 be "retooled" and submitted in the 2010 legislative session.

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Columnist Praises Guv, Spanks Thompson Over Utah Video Game Bill

March 29, 2009 -

In a Saturday column, Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly praises Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for his recent veto of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill. Thompson, however, comes in for some heat:

Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of House Bill 353 underscores the importance of the constitutional checks that can be imposed on the Utah Legislature, whose members often are influenced by ideological extremists or questionable special interest groups.

In this case, while 25 of 29 senators and 67 of 75 representatives voted for the bill that supposedly protected children, it was Huntsman who proved to be the adult, protecting us all from the childlike antics of the legislators and their puppet masters.

In discussing Thompson's involvement with the vetoed legislation, Rolly cites a pair of GamePolitics stories. The first was our February interview with HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (R). That interview's bizarre turn of events offered clues as to who wielded the real political clout behind HB 353. Hint: It wasn't Morley:

Thompson teamed up with Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka to push the legislation, a fact that Morley seemed reluctant to admit when he was interviewed by Game Politics, a publication that tracks the video-game industry.

The SL Trib columnist also dug up a 2007 GamePolitics interview with Jack Thompson. At the time Thompson was pushing a different piece of video game legislation in Utah. When Attorney General Mark Shurtleff suggested that the measure was unconstitutional, Thompson called for his impeachment. In the interview, I asked Thompson how such over-the-top verbiage was helpful to his cause. Ever the charmer, he called me a "goofball" and referred to Shurtleff as a "moron."

Thompson's involvement in Utah's legislative process is clearly troubling to Rolly:

This is a guy who is guiding legislation in Utah, the latest example of the influence certain ideologues can have on a Legislature controlled by one political party and too often predisposed to approve legislation, no matter how bad or bizarre, from right-wing zealots.

Pictured: Gov. Huntsman, Rep. Morley, Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, Jack Thompson

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Utah Attorney General: We Had Concerns About Jack Thompson Video Game Bill

March 27, 2009 -

The Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) harbored reservations about the legality of HB 353, the video game/movie bill conceived by Jack Thompson.

Trib reporter Robert Gehrke writes:

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff... told me last night that his office had expressed its concerns "with several different iterations of the bill" while it was pending before the Legislature.

"Ultimately, we could probably make an argument to defend it, but we will be sued, it will be costly. If we lose we will pay attorneys fees. Wouldn't you rather spend that money educating people about the rating system?" he asked. "The governor apparently decided it wasn't worth the risk."

There would seem to be little love lost between Shurtleff and Thompson. During the disbarred attorney's previous attempt to legislate games in Utah, he called for Shurtleff's impeachment after the A.G. opined that Thompson's 2007 bill was constitutionally-challenged. The bill was subsequently tabled by the Utah House.

Thompson, who apparently got wind of Shurtleff's comments in advance, disputed the A.G.'s remarks in a harshly-worded e-mail sent last evening:

We told you for weeks that if you had any constitutional concerns, we wanted to provide you any information you wanted in that regard.  I offered repeatedly to meet with you and talk with you, and you ignored my repeated plaintive requests to do so... 

We heard absolutely NOTHING from you as to the bill’s alleged unconstitutionality, and yet now we hear... that you were badmouthing it in that regard, I presume to Gov. Huntsman as well... 

For his part, Shurtleff has been both a critic of violent video games as well as a supporter of the ESRB rating system. In 2005, for example, he urged Utah retailers to boycott Eidos's controversial cops-and-robbers shooter, 25 to Life.

In 2006 Shurtleff made an industry-funded public service announcement in which he urged parents to utilize ESRB ratings. As GamePolitics has reported, Shurtleff received a $3,000 campaign donation from the ESA in May of 2008.

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Grover Norquist High-Fives Utah Guv Over Video Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

A nationally-prominent conservative has given props to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for vetoing HB 353, the video game/movie bill crafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

Earlier today, Grover Norquist (left), president of Americans for Tax Reform, forwarded the Guv a congratulatory letter, and GamePolitics has obtained a copy. From Norquist's message to Gov. Huntsman:

In vetoing such a clearly unconstitutional bill you have spared the taxpayers of your state the fate of too many others, picking up the legal tab for those that challenge the bill...

 

Your veto spared not only the legal costs states like the now nearly bankrupt California ($282,794) and Illinois ($545,078), but the harm to retail outlets in these difficult economic times, as well as the interference of parental rights by the state...

 

I know there is a push by well-intentioned groups... to override your veto, but that is a bad idea. Beyond the obvious First Amendment violation this bill presents and the dubious nature of making legally binding voluntary industry ratings, H.B. 353 violates the Dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution as well...

 

As you know, Americans for Tax Reform opposed passage of H.B. 353 and supported a veto. I thank you for standing up for the taxpayers of Utah in this matter and encourage you to stand strong and fight against attempts to override that veto.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of Norquist's letter to Gov. Huntsman here (pdf).

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Jack Thompson Lashes Out at Utah Guv Following Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

Following abortive attempts to bring video game legislation to Utah in 2006 and 2007, Jack Thompson's fortunes in the conservative Western state seemed to be improving this time around.

Despite early confusion as to whether Thompson or bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley deserved credit for dreaming up HB 353, the bill quickly gathered momentum. The Utah House and Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly and it was known to enjoy the support of Utah power broker - and Thompson ally - Gayle Ruzicka, head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman pulled the rug out yesterday, however. Huntsman vetoed the bill, citing constitutional concerns and the potential for "unintended consequences."

For his part, Thompson went on the offensive. A letter from the disbarred attorney to the Governor took a harsh tone and threatened even more restrictive legislative action in the future:

You got suckered [by the video game industry]. Further, there is no constitutional, First Amendment problem... 

If your veto is not overridden, then we will be back with a bill to ban the sale of these products altogether, in light of the recent massacres in Germany and in this country directly caused by these murder simulation products that are being copycatted by teens who are being fraudulently sold them.

GP: The threat to ban violent games for players of all ages - including adults - would appear to be highly suspect, in light of the First Amendment. We asked Thompson about that, but he did not respond.

Thompson also circulated public records showing a May, 2006 campaign contribution of $500 from video game publishers' lobbying group the ESA to Huntsman. In an e-mail, Thompson accused the industry of buying Huntsman's veto.

We have verified that the $500 contribution from the ESA was received on behalf of Huntsman's 2004 campaign fund. But for Thompson's assertion to be correct, the ESA would have been prescient, indeed, to forsee - and pay for - a gubernatorial veto three years in advance. One would also have to accept the premise that the Guv could be bought. We asked Thompson about this, but again did not receive a response. 

UPDATE: Some GP readers have requested the Thompson letter to Gov. Huntsman. It follows after the jump.

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Utah House Majority Leader: Override of Game Bill Veto Unlikely

March 26, 2009 -

HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill which was vetoed yesterday by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, is unlikely to return - at least in 2009.

The Deseret News reports that Utah House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R, left) downplayed the likelihood of an override for either HB 353 or a second, non-game-related measure vetoed by Huntsman yesterday.

I don't see a veto override session called for either of these bills. I think the sponsors should retool them and present them next session.

Garn, however, did praise the legislation:

[HB 353] was a fine example of a bill that sends a message to the sellers of these games of violence and nudity — don't sell to minors, especially if you've advertised that you wouldn't.

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Leading Utah Newspaper Applauds Veto of Jack Thompson Bill

March 26, 2009 -

Terming it "a bullet dodged," the Salt Lake Tribune has lauded Gov. John Huntsman's veto of HB 353 in an editorial.

Although it did not mention the disbarred Miami attorney, the editorial was unsparing in its criticism of the Jack Thompson-conceived bill:

Somehow, this misguided piece of legislation zoomed through the Legislature with hardly an opposing vote, and, we suspect, without a thorough vetting...

 

This was patently ridiculous legislation, easily challenged in court as unconstitutional...

The bill ignored the fact... [that] the ratings can provide helpful information to parents, but should not supercede a parent's decision to let a child buy a game or DVD. In that, HB353 flew in the face of Utah's traditional support of parents' rights...

 

Is that really what legislators believed they were voting for... ? Probably not, but the legislation's broad language invited a whole set of consequences that were not intended...

In their misplaced zeal to limit access to media they don't like, our legislators might have eliminated the very tools parents need to set limits on what their children see and hear. We dodged a bullet on this one. Having misfired badly, the Legislature should not bring it up again.

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Utah Bill Sponsor Blames Guv's Veto on Gamer E-mails

March 26, 2009 -

As GamePolitics reported yesterday, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman vetoed HB 353, the Jack Thompson video game/movie bill that would have targeted retailers who sold M-rated games or R-rated movies to minors.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike Morley (R-UT), told the Salt Lake Tribune:

I think it's simply a result of an e-mail campaign from a lot of gamers that misrepresent the bill and [the governor's staff] has not studied it closely enough to recognize that is not the case. I think it was crafted very carefully to avoid those issues and I think they're mistaken.

However, a source close to Utah state politics told GamePolitics yesterday that Gov. Huntsman was the subject of intense lobbying from retailers. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Entertainment Software Association mounted a major lobbying campaign as well.

Morley complained to the Deseret News that the Guv didn't give him a courtesy call before vetoing the bill:

I would have thought that just common courtesy would have been to call me.

Legislators are now deciding whether to pursue an override of the veto.

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BREAKING: Utah Governor Vetoes Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Jack Thompson e-mailed GamePolitics a few minutes ago to say that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) has vetoed HB 353, the video game/movie bill passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate.

We've also confirmed this with another source in Utah.

According to Thompson, backers of the bill plan to seek an override of the Guv's veto.

We're hearing (not from Thompson) that the word on the street is that retailers lobbied the Guv energetically.

GP: Color me surprised. I did not think that Huntsman would buck the legislature on this one.

UPDATE: Saintless has Gov. Huntsman's explanation of his veto:

After careful consideration and study, I have decided to veto HB 353...

While protecting children from inappropriate materials is a laudable goal, the language of this bill is so broad that it likely will be struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause and/or the First Amendment.

The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on goods and services.

 

Therefore, the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.

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First Amendment Expert Considers Final Version of Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is now considering whether to sign into law HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game and movie bill. The Guv has until approximately April 1st to make that decision. In the meantime, the National Coalition Against Censorship, among others, has urged Huntsman to veto the measure.

Along that line, GamePolitics readers may recall that last month, when HB 353 was introduced into the Utah House by Rep. Mike Morley (R), we asked Prof. Clay Calvert, Co-Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State, to offer his view of the original text of the bill.

Since that time, HB 353 has been substantially amended along the way to passage by the Utah legislature. That being the case, earlier this week we asked Prof. Calvert to revisit the final version of the bill. If you'd like to refer to the subsections mentioned by Prof. Calvert, you'll find them by hitting the jump.

Prof. Calvert's analysis follows:

The [safe harbor] defense provision of [HB 353] (g)(i)(A) not only is vague (what constitutes a documented training program? What is required by Utah to count as such a program?  With whom must it be documented?  Utah?), but it actually is quite burdensome because it only works if a store affirmatively adopts such a training program.  

The defense provision of (g)(i)(B) is helpful to stores because it prevents liability in the case where a minor engages in fraud to purchase a game by using a fake ID. That's a positive step in this revised legislation (which is NOT to say the legislation itself is positive).

One major concern is turning what the bill specifically identifies as a "recommendation" into a mandatory command. The recommendation is made by a private party (presumably the ESRB) and the government now is employing it with the force of law.

 

The National Coalition Against Censorship makes a great point when it states that this bill, "by incorporating the private voluntary ratings system... constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity."

In particular, there is significant legal precedent for this point in the context of violent video game statutes.  In July 2006, a federal district court in Minnesota in the case of Entertainment Software Association v. Hatch... issued an injunction prohibiting that state from enforcing a law that fined those minors under 17 years of age for renting or purchasing video games rated AO or M by the ESRB...

 

A second major concern is that section (u)(ii) simply applies if one "provides that good or service to a buyer subject to the age restriction or recommendation." The law could be improved if it applied to one who "provides that good or service to buyer knowing the age restriction or recommendation on the good or service AND knowing that the buyer is under the age of the restriction or recommendation." 

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Leg-Wrestling Utah Congressman Has No Comment on Video Game Bill... But He's a Good Sport About It

March 23, 2009 -

He leg-wrestled Stephen Colbert and even played a Rock Band duet with the popular Comedy Central host, but freshman Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) offered GamePolitics no comment on his state's controversial video game/movie legislation.

The measure is now on Gov. Jon Huntsman's desk, awaiting signature.

GamePolitics tracked Rep. Chaffetz down on Twitter, where he is jasoninthehouse. To be fair, since he is a federal legislator and HB 353 is a state bill, we didn't really expect he'd be fully briefed - and he wasn't. But the media-savvy - and tech-savvy - Chaffetz is a good sport, as our private Twitter exchange demonstrates:

GamePolitics: Hey, Rep. Chaffetz, any thoughts on HB 353, video game/movie bill now on Gov. Huntsman's desk for signature?

jasoninthehouse: Just not familiar with it... State bill... I have been focused on the federal ones

GamePolitics: Fair enough, but what if I told you that among its provisions was a ban on leg-wrestling with fake news show hosts?

jasoninthehouse: That is funny. I should abide by this and not do any more leg wrestling....I am obviously not very good at it.

GP: For the record, I must point out that the text of my direct messages to Rep. Chaffetz disappeared into the Twitter ether, so I've paraphrased them from memory. Rep. Chaffetz's responses are verbatim. Beyond that, it's nice to see an approachable Congressman on Twitter - especially one with a sense of humor.

9 comments

National Coalition Against Censorship Urges Utah Guv to Veto Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

Joining those who have called upon Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to veto HB 353 is the National Coalition Against Censorship.

A post on the NCAC website says that the Jack Thompson-conceived bill "takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights."

More from the NCAC:

This bill would hold retailers responsible for selling minors material labeled for mature audiences.  Sellers of books, movies, video games, and music could be penalized up to $2000 for “violating” age guidelines created voluntarily for informational purposes only.

This bill takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights.  By incorporating the private voluntary ratings system, it also constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity...

 

The bill may result in consumers getting less information.  Stores not willing to risk lawsuit or fines for violating age restrictions may simply decide not to display ratings information.  The industry as a whole could even consider dispensing with its voluntary rating system if the result is to make retailers vulnerable to lawsuits and judgments.

We urge Governor Huntsman to veto this problematic bill.

UPDATE: The NCAC has written a letter to Gov. Huntsman urging a veto of HB 353.

Techie Blogger Mom Calls For Guv to Veto Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

A Utah mom has come out swinging against HB 353. The Jack Thompson-conceived bill, overwhelmingly passed by the Utah House and Senate, is currently just a stroke of Gov. Jon Huntsman's (R) pen away from becoming law.

Misty Fowler (left) is a software developer, mother of two and activist Democrat.

She also pens the politically-oriented Saintless blog.

Fowler writes:

I didn’t feel like [Utah Senate sponsor Margaret] Dayton [R] and [Utah House sponsor Mike] Morley [R] came out to share details of the bill, but to introduce it with the idea that this isn’t a punitive bill, so that maybe we would all have warm fuzzies about how good this was for our children. Because really, think of the children, will you?...

As a parent, I feel very strongly that it’s my responsibility to my children to educate them about what they can play, and why...


The ESRB is accomplishing what it should... The Utah Legislature seems to be approving of ESRB by trying to enforce it...

I don’t want this law passed. Not because I don’t want to protect children. But, because I think it’s a bogus attempt to regulate the ESRB, and won’t do anything for our children. It will cost local businesses money, and is likely to remove some great tools I have in making decisions about video games as a parent.

Ask Governor Huntsman to veto it.

Fowler also questions the bill, given Jack Thompson's involvement.

39 comments

Utah Game/Movie Bill Sent to Governor; Video Game Industry Responds

March 20, 2009 -

UPDATED

Having been passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate, HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill, is now with Gov. Jon Huntsman (R).

The Guv can decide to sign the measure into law or veto it. He may also do nothing, in which case the bill will automatically become law. Given that Utah conservatives have portrayed the bill as protective of children and Huntsman is rumored to have 2012 presidential aspirations, it's highly unlikely that he will exercise his veto power.

With HB 353 landing on Huntsman's desk, game publishers' lobbying group the Entertainment Software Association has upped the pressure ante a bit. The ESA-owned Video Game Voters Network is running an e-mail campaign which urges Huntsman to veto HB 353.

ESA VP of Communications and Industry Affairs Rich Taylor also criticized the bill in an interview with Salt Lake City public radio station KCPW:

Essentially, what it does it has the unintended consequence of creating liability exposure which could force many retailers to either abandon their voluntary policies to enforce video game rating systems, or maybe perhaps choose not to sell video games at all.

Here you have broadly drawn legislative language that seeks to address a fairly small instance of retailers failing to enforce their policies as promoted. The vast, overwhelming majority of retailers are complying, but now they fall within this swinging sight of harm that this legislation introduces.

For his part, Jack Thompson has challenged ESA CEO Mike Gallagher to a debate on the bill, but that's an unlikely occurrence.

Assuming that Huntsman signs the bill into law, it will take effect on January 1, 2010. If and when Huntsman signs, the video game industry will decide whether to challenge the measure in federal court.

Also unclear at this point is where the motion picture industry stands on HB 353. If the ESA and EMA (game retailers) sue, will the MPAA join in?

UPDATE: An industry executive who has been actively involved in the fight against HB 353 assures GamePolitics that the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners are fully engaged in opposition to the bill.
 

Utah Bill Sponsor Talks About e-mail From Gamers

March 17, 2009 -

Rep. Mike Morley (R) of the Utah House of Representatieves is apparently getting a lot of e-mail from gamers.

They're not happy.

Morley, of course is the sponsor of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie rating enforcment bill which passed overwhelmingly in both the Utah House and Senate.

The Deseret News reports that "various groups" are e-mailing Morley. The legislator told the newspaper:

I was told that there might be some crazies out there... I actually talked to some of these people who sent me crazy e-mails (from Facebook), and everyone one I talked to, after I explained the bill and asked them to read it, didn't think that it would do [what various Web sites said it would]...

 

This is not the end of the world for video-game sales," Morley says. "We are not creating a litigious situation. No one should be concerned.

HB 353 is now before Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), who has 20 days (from March 12th) to sign the bill into law or veto it.

GP: It seems likely that the Guv will sign HB 353 into law. After that, the next move will be up to the ESA (publishers) and EMA (retailers). Will they pursue a federal court solution? That's unclear at this point because HB 353 is a different kind of animal than previous legislative efforts aimed at video games.

39 comments

Did Utah Senate Work From Jack Thompson's Playbook to Pass Video Game Bill?

March 13, 2009 -

Following a lively debate last night, the Utah State Senate passed HB 353 by an overwhelming 25-4 margin.

But photos taken during the Senate debate suggest that the influence of disbarred anti-game activist Jack Thompson stretched all the way from Miami to Salt Lake City, perhaps impacting the outcome of the HB 353 vote. As GamePolitics has previously reported, the bill was originally conceived by Thompson.

One of those who rose in support of HB 353 last night was Sen. Chris Buttars (R). A strong supporter of conservative causes, Buttars has been in political hot water in recent times over controversial remarks concerning African-Americans and gays.

Speaking during the debate, Buttars recounted the story of Devin Moore, the 18-year-old Grand Theft Auto gamer who killed two police officers and a dispatcher during a 2003 rampage in an Alabama police station. Jack Thompson later filed a $600 million wrongful death suit against Rockstar, Take-Two, Sony, Wal-Mart and GameStop in the case. Thompson, however, was later thrown off the case by an Alabama judge.

Buttars also commented on the developing teenage brain - another recurring theme of Thompson's. In fact, while following the live webcast of the debate, GP issued several tweets noting the apparent Thompson influence:

Sen. Buttars up now. He is Gayle Ruzicka's ally. He is telling the Devin Moore story (GTA player who killed 3 police in Alabama).

Clearly a Jack Thompson influence here. JT sued Rockstar, Sony, GameStop, Wal-Mart over the case until judge threw him off the case in 2005

Buttars now offering brain physiology lesson, also courtesy of the man from Miami.

This morning we received an e-mail from Salt Lake Tribune columnist Glen Warchol who forwarded a pair of pictures he took during the debate last night. The photos confirm the Thompson connection. In one, Buttars is seen reading from a book while addressing the Senate. In another, Jack Thompson's 2005 book Out of Harm's Way is shown resting on Buttars's desk on the Senate floor. The audio of Buttars' comments includes this verbatim quote of NIMF head Dr. David Walsh, found on page 182 of Thompson's book:

The impulse control center of the brain, the part of the brain that enables us to think ahead, consider consequences and manage urges, that's the part of the brain right behind our forehead called the prefrontal cortex. That's under construction during the teenage years. In fact, the wiring of that is not completed until the early twenties.

After reading the passage, Buttars told his Senate colleagues:

You got a problem here. You got an epidemic here... We need to pass this bill.

GamePolitics asked Thompson to comment:

I had never heard of Buttars until you wrote about him.  I have never talked with him, never communicated with him.  I'm delighted he read from my book.  Most in the legislature, I assume have read it.  I asked nobody to read from my book, and I would never do such a thing.  But it's a fabulous book, as you know.   

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab an mp3 of Buttars channeling Thompson during last night's Utah Senate debate (3:29, 3mb).

Now, Utah Bill Races Against the Clock

March 12, 2009 -

Despite the Utah State Senate's passage of HB 353 by an overwhelming 25-4 margin, the bill is racing against the clock to survive.

Because the Senate amended the bill (more about that later) it now must go back to the Utah House for approval.

The catch is, that all has to happen by midnight in Salt Lake City. Which means that, as I write this, there are about 5.5 hours to get this done. The House is on a dinner break at this moment, which ends at 7:00 P.M. their time, leaving five hours of actual time to work on legislative business.

It seems doable, but HB 353 isn't listed on the House activity calendar yet, so...

UPDATE: Jack Thompson, who drafted the original version of the bill, commented on the time pressure in an e-mail to GamePolitics:

Now it's back to the House with the amended Senate bill, which applies to all sales, including Internet sales. This is fun, and the question is, does it strike midnight before we win?

UPDATE 2: HB 353 status page shows that the House has concurred with the Senate amendments. Next stop for the bill is Gov. Huntsman's desk.

56 comments

BREAKING: Utah Senate Passes Video Game Bill

March 12, 2009 -

Following a lively debate, the Utah State Senate has passed HB 353 by a 25-4 margin.

The bill, originally drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson, was amended in the Utah Senate prior to this evening's vote.

Because the bill was amended by the Senate, it now goes back to the Utah House which must approve the changes. That step must be completed by midnight when the current legislative session ends.

Sen. Margaret Dayton (R), the measure's sponsor in the Senate, is seen at left speaking about HB 353 during the just-completed debate.

During the debate, Sen. Scott McCoy (D) called the bill a square peg in a round hole. While saying that he personally found Grand Theft Auto disgusting, McCoy also feared that the measure is an inappropriate use of Utah's Truth in Advertising statute and that it will be subject to challenge on constitutional grounds.

Speaking in support of HB 353 was Sen. Chris Buttars (R). The controversial Republican cited the well-known case of Devin Moore, a GTA player who killed two police officers and a dispatcher in 2003. Before being removed from the case by an Alabama judge, Jack Thompson was involved in a wrongful death lawsuit against Rockstar, Sony, Wal-Mart and GameStop based on Moore's rampage. 

Assuming that the House approves the Senate amendment, which seems likely, the measure will proceed to Gov. Jon Huntsman. The Governor may sign it into law or veto the measure.

30 comments

Crunch Time: Utah Senate Must Decide Video Game Bill by Midnight

March 12, 2009 -

It's crunch time for HB353, the video game/movie bill under consideration by the Utah State Senate.

The measure must pass the Senate by midnight or it will die. HB353 will begin the day at #26 on the Senate's to-do list.

The bill was approved 70-2 last week by the Utah House.

GamePolitics will be updating the bill's status throughout the day, and you can check for yourself, too. Here's how:

 - at this link, click S2ND, the last entry under "Location." This will tell you where the bill is in line for Senate consideration.

 - check the Senate calendar for today's date. During the hours when the senators are in session, you can watch or listen, live. It's a very nice feature that we wish all legislative bodies offered. FYI, Utah is on Mountain Time.

HB353 has been especially hot over the last few days with the ESRB and bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley trading rhetoric and the conservative Media Freedom Project calling on Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to opposed the measure.

For all of GP's HB353 coverage, click here.

25 comments

Utah Bill Sponsor Responds to ESRB, Questions Game Biz Commitment to Ratings

March 11, 2009 -

The sponsor of a Utah bill that could punish sales of M-rated games to minors with false advertising charges has questioned the video game industry's commitment to its own rating system in an e-mail to GamePolitics.

GP readers may recall that last Friday, ESRB President Patricia Vance penned an unprecedented open letter to "Utah's parents and leaders."

In the letter, Vance took issue with HB 353, a bill originally conceived by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson. The measure passed the Utah House last week by an overwhelming 70-2 majority and is now under consideration by the State Senate.

Although the amended bill passed by the Utah House was substantially watered down in comparison to its original version, it is clearly still a source of concern to the video game industry, hence the Vance letter.

GamePolitics asked Utah Rep. Mike Morley (R), the sponsor of the bill, to comment on the ESRB's open letter. We received Morley's response last night and are re-printing it here, in full:

It is interesting to me, given the voluntary efforts and the pledges taken by many retailers to work with parents and children to understand the appropriateness of video game content, that a bill such as HB 353 would have any concern at all for them, particularly given the safe harbors I have provided in the bill.  It causes me concern when I see a letter such as [Vance's] which threatens to completely withdrawn efforts and leads me to believe that the video game industry is not truly committed to the standards they espouse in their advertising.

HB 353 is not punitive.  It gives safe harbor to retailers who provide training and to their employees.  This provides protection to those retailers whose practice corresponds to their stated intent of refusing to sell inappropriate materials to minors.  I would think good retailers who enforce their stated policies, as well as industry at large, would welcome this legislation.  Only those bad actors who are receiving good will for advertising family-friendly policies and then not enforcing that policy would have any potential affect from HB 353.

I applaud ESRB for their work over the past decade and a half. Certainly, their efforts to regulate the gaming industry and implement an effective rating program which is embraced by the producers of both games and gaming equipment is a significant accomplishment and provides peace of mind to parents across the nation.  As the father of eight sons who all love to play video games, I express my appreciation for their efforts.

As I have been made aware of the content – explicit sexuality, rape, murder, graphic violence, gore – contained in many of the Mature games, I have great concern about this material reaching even one child.  While there is nothing I or ESRB can do about that, we can support actions which will require accountability of those few retailers in our state who consistently disregard their own advertised policies, policies upon which parents rely for an added layer of protection for their children.

GP: HB353 is now listed on the Utah State Senate's debate calendar. If it is to be passed, that action must occur by tomorrow midnight.

46 comments

Conservative Media Watchdog Group Urges Utah Guv to Oppose Video Game Bill

March 10, 2009 -

Terming it a "give away to trial lawyers," a conservative media watchdog group has called upon Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R, at left) to oppose HB 353, which is currently under consideration by the State Senate.

The measure would make retailers who advertise that they abide by age restrictions for video games and movies potentially liable under Utah's truth in advertising law. As reported on GamePolitics, HB 353 passed the State House by a 70-2 margin last week.

Derek Hunter, executive director of the Media Freedom Project, wrote to Huntsman yesterday:

In a state famous for hosting the Sundance Film Festival, amending the [law] to include [video game and movie] transactions would have a chilling effect on the film industry, as well as other retail businesses, and further damage an already ailing economy.

 

Specifically, the Media Freedom Project strongly opposes opening up businesses to lawsuits for underage video game or movie sales. This give away to trial lawyers won’t make kids safer, but will build in dramatically higher costs for small businesses who are already working on strategies to keep kids safe...

 

No crisis exists. Parents are not clamoring for government intervention into the lives of their children...

Should the Utah State Senate pass HB 353 (and they have until Thursday midnight to do so), it would be up to Gov. Huntsman to sign the measure into law or veto it.

Sourcewatch reports that the Media Freedom Project is an offshoot of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

GP: Especially fascinating about the Media Freedom Project's involvement is that they are a conservative group lobbying against a bill that was proposed by a conservative legislator, Rep. Mike Morley, in the most conservative of states, Utah. Moreover, the bill enjoys the backing of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum and was originally drafted by another conservative, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of the MFP's letter to Gov. Huntsman here.

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