By Michael E. Miller
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Jack Thompson looks nothing like 9/11 orchestrator Mohamed Atta. He wears a slick business suit and lives in a million-dollar home in Coral Gables. Yet the 56-year-old lawyer hand-delivered a letter to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno last week that sounded a lot like terrorism: "Maybe," he wrote, "my 'mistake' was not killing 3,000 people to make my point."
On Monday, federal marshals showed up at his home to question him about the matter. Next up for the man who for 20 years has worn the mantle of the puritanical police: disbarment.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dava Tunis last month found Thompson guilty of 27 violations of the Florida Bar code of conduct. The case against this vexatious litigator is detailed in 4,100 pages of exhibits and testimony. Examples of his sins include sending members of the Florida Supreme Court gay porn and a picture book with images of (1) swastikas, (2) a kangaroo clutching an outsize gavel, (3) a kangaroo in judge's robes sitting on the bench, and (4) Ray Charles. His point was to illustrate that Florida's high jurists simply could not comprehend the ineffable complexities of his arguments.
If Tunis's findings are confirmed by the court this fall, the justices will only be confirming what hip-hop artists and gamers have known for decades: Jack don't know jack.
Thompson entered the public psyche in 1988, when he campaigned against then-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno by employing a novel strategy — he inferred she was a closeted lesbian. Two years later, his profile was raised during the furor over Miami rap group 2 Live Crew, charged with staging an obscene performance at a Hollywood nightclub. He sent the lyrics of "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" to Gov. Bob Martinez and every county sheriff in the state.
He also sent along legal documents attached to copies of his driver's license. Over his photo, he pasted an image of a caped crusader. "I have sent my opponents pictures of Batman to remind them I'm playing the role," Thompson told a Washington Post reporter. "Just like Bruce Wayne helped the police in the movie, I have had to assist the sheriff of Broward County." (Charges against 2 Live Crew were eventually forgotten.)
In an unrelated matter around that time, the Florida Bar Association dropped an inquiry into Thompson's mental stability after a bar-appointed neuropsychologist pronounced him competent.
Norm Kent, a prominent gay Fort Lauderdale attorney, began feuding with Thompson two decades ago when they were on opposite sides of a case regarding radio host Neil Rogers, who spouted obscenities on the air. Kent publishes the Express Gay News and National Gay News and is a board member of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. His philosophy is the antithesis to Thompson's radically conservative, born-again-Christian ethos. And Thompson has in several instances attempted to have his nemesis's law license yanked. "In each of these cases, he's arguing, 'How does the [Florida] Bar allow a pot-smoking homosexual to continue to practice?'" Kent says. "Thompson has a hard time coping with the fact that a lawyer as gay as I am can be as successful as I am."
In the early Nineties, Thompson turned his ire to rap, including an attempt to stop distribution of Ice-T's song "Cop Killer." Then he moved onto his next target: Grand Theft Auto. Pixelated videogame violence inspired the murderous sprees at Columbine and Virginia Tech, he ranted in faxes and e-mails to the press.
The events leading to his disbarment began in 2003, when Devin Moore, a Fayette County, Alabama teenager and compulsive Grand Theft Auto player, killed two police officers and a radio dispatcher. Two years later, in February 2005, Thompson sued the videogame's developer — Rockstar Games — and others on behalf of the families of the victims, claiming Grand Theft Auto had persuaded Moore to commit the crime.
But there were problems. Thompson filed the case in Alabama, where he was not licensed. And he employed his usual fax and e-mail smear tactics, even after a gag order was issued. In August, the defense counsel, lawyers of the prestigious Blank Rome firm in Philadelphia, asked Judge James Moore to give Thompson the boot. After the judge agreed, Thompson sent him dozens of faxes alleging he was in "bed" with opposing lawyers and that the jurist's "friend" had fixed the case. "You're the guy who wants to give Take-Two my scalp," he wrote. "Thieves and liars ... are your corporate criminal buddies, Judge Moore."
In February 2006, Moore filed a complaint about Thompson's behavior with the Florida Bar (which would later be affirmed by Tunis). The judge declined to comment for this story.
More anti-videogame screeds followed, until Michigan gamers Alyson Burch and George Ettinger tried to extend an olive branch by collecting money to send Thompson flowers. At first, the goal was only $50, but soon international donations swelled the pot to more than a grand. Burch and Ettinger sent an expansive bouquet to Thompson and donated the rest to charity. The affair became a web sensation when Thompson flatly refused to accept the bouquet and then accused the pair of being spies for Rockstar Games, Burch said.
Still another bar complaint came later in 2006, when Thompson was attempting to stop Rockstar from releasing a new game, Bully, which he decried as a "Columbine simulator." Thompson filed suit against the company and then in October attempted to have Miami-Dade County Judge Ronald Friedman recused, alleging the judge was involved in a coverup with secrecy worthy of a Star Chamber.
In a letter sent to Judge Friedman and copied to the meida, Thompson wrote, "Next time you promise a 'hearing,' I'll bring a parent with me whose kid is in the ground because of a kid who trained to kill him or her on a violent videogame. Try mocking that person, I dare you."
A few months later, as part of his ongoing campaign against Kent, Thompson followed links to gay porn on Kent's website and purchased membership. Then he downloaded the images and sent copies to members of the Florida Supreme Court. Soon he was warned that if the inappropriate filings continued, sanctions would follow. But he didn't stop.
On March 20, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court, after an almost saintly history of patience with Thompson, struck back. The justices sanctioned Thompson and forbade him to submit further filings unless they were signed by a second attorney. He paid little attention to the order.
Judge Tunis collected every pleading since then and included them in her recommendation to the state Supreme Court on May 15. In her preliminary recommendations, she found Thompson had committed a litany of violations of the Florida Bar code of conduct, and recommended disbarment for 10 years. The justices can lock him out of the courtroom longer if they choose.
Here are just a few of the violations detailed in Judge Tunis's preliminary report:
• Making false statements to a tribunal.
• Presenting, participating in presenting, or threatening to present disciplinary charges under these rules solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.
• Communicating the merits of the cause with a judge before whom the proceeding is pending.
• Making extrajudicial statements.
• Using means that have no purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.
• Engaging in conduct involving fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation.
Jason Della Roca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, won't take a position on Thompson's disbarment. But he believes Thompson is really just distracting society from the real problems. And he insists the lawyer's arguments about videogames as "murder simulators" are absurd. "Dude, I'm pushing a space bar and handling a mouse," he says. "How far removed from a firearm can I be?"