"Whatever happened (in JoLynn's death), it was not murder ... The American video industry must share the blame."

- Jack Thompson, in a news release regarding the premeditated killing of JoLynn Mishne by his prospective client, Dustin Lynch


John B. "Jack" Thompson is a lawyer from Coral Gables, Florida who presents himself to the news media (at every opportunity) as an outspoken crusader for decency. His name has been linked to a whole catalogue of legal actions that have intended to find the entertainment industry guilty for all of society's ills. It is conceivable that this campaign originally stemmed from some kind of authentic sense of morality (Thompson is a born-again Christian), but over the years it has become increasingly apparent that Thompson views the free speech debate as little more than an easy source of media attention and fat payouts. Opportunistic, unprofessional and amoral, Thompson's career has plumbed depths that would make Lionel Hutz (the exaggerated caricature of an ambulance chaser from The Simpsons) have second thoughts, although admittedly those thoughts would mostly be about how he could obtain Thompson's inexplicable level of funding and semblence of credibility within the legal industry.

Thompson's first stint in the limelight came about in the early 1990s when he took the recording industry to task over explicit lyrics in rap songs. He faxed the 'risqué' lyrics of Miami rap group 2 Live Crew to politicians and kicked up a stink resulting in the album Nasty As They Wanna Be being legally classified as an obscene recording (although this ruling was later overturned). Thompson also was called upon as an expert when the authorities took a dim view of Ice-T's Cop Killer. It has been hinted that this campaign was motivated by racism- whether or not Thompson was a racist himself, he was doubtless aware of the way his message would be interpreted by old-fashioned Southerners.

Now those devils in the recording industry had been shown the error of their ways, Thompson broadened his activities to take on the pornography industry. In one farcical episode of this legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court ordered Thompson to undergo psychological testing. He passed and collected $20,000 in damages. (After this he would often quip, "I'm officially the only sane lawyer in Florida.")

Concerns about Thompson's psychological wellbeing can be more easily understood if we look at another of his interests: Janet Reno. In 1988 Thompson campaigned against Reno for the position of Dade County District Attorney and lost. Ever since that time he has asserted to anyone who will listen (i.e. the crackpot fringe of the conservative media) that Reno is mentally unstable and a closeted lesbian who is being blackmailed by the Mafia. Predictably, he considers the fact that no one has ever bothered to sue him for his nonsensical attempts at character assassination (although the Florida courts did once charge him with harrassment) to be validation of his 'theories'.

During the Elian Gonzalez affair, Thompson was hired by the right-wing news portal NewsMax to provide commentary of the legal proceedings. Aside from using this new soapbox to continue his attacks on Reno (as well as Bill Clinton), he also turned his sights on Kendall Coffey (lawyer for Gonzalez's Miami relatives), claiming in an open letter that he "...bit an exotic dancer, drawing blood..." and that this meant he was ethically unsuitable to handle the case. (Nothing like blackmailing people to point out their ethical shortcomings, eh?)

Which brings us up to the present. Jack Thompson is currently engaged in a struggle against the video games industry being fought on several fronts. He has filed a suit against the United States Army over the promotional recruiting tool America's Army, a free game which could be seen as giving some validity to the oft-repeated (in the wake of the Columbine killings) censorship-advocate's theory that games can be used to train killers. Thompson was also the originator of the (frankly ridiculous) 'link' between the actions of John Allen Muhammad (the Washington sniper) and gaming, where he claimed that the note left on a victim ("Dear Policeman, I am God") was a reference to the gaming term 'God Mode' (slang for an invulnerability cheat). He also claimed that the sniper and his accomplice trained using the game Halo (as opposed to their arsenal of military-grade rifles).

Thompson took on Sony Online Entertainment in the case of the suicide of Shawn Woolley, an EverQuest addict. This case actually does raise some legitimate questions about the responsibility of the operators of online games to try and safeguard the health of their customers (as it could easily be argued that this kind of heavy-use game is beyond the scope of an Epilepsy Warning flyer in the box), although Thompson would most likely have taken on the case even if Woolley had never touched a computer in his life, in the knowledge that he could (with the aid of negative media attention) extract a big payout for Woolley's family.

As far as Jack Thompson is concerned, the actual motives behind a violent crime are irrelevant. Provided that he can convince a jury that no-one ever has any personal responsibility for their actions, all that needs to be done is pick the entertainment industry bête noire with the fattest purse. This is demonstrated once again in his latest high profile case, defending 16-year-old Dustin Lynch of Medina County, Ohio, who has been charged with the murder of fellow teenager JoLynn Mishne. Thompson urged Lynch's two previous lawyers to try and place the blame on violent video games, but both declined (presumably due to being sane). He has now offered to provide his services for free. If Thompson is to get his way, Take 2 Interactive (publishers of the Grand Theft Auto series) are the most likely target for his attack, although he is also keen on getting major retailers (Best Buy, Wal-Mart) to stop stocking mature-rated games altogether. Even if Thompson fails this time, there will be many more violent crimes for him to latch onto in future.

Jack Thompson has made a career of exploiting desperate people, opposing freedom of expression and abusing the justice system to further his own ends. Until such time when he finally exhausts the patience of the legal system and is disbarred, all that can be done is to make people aware of his history and his agenda. Remember Jack the next time you see a TV news story introduce somebody as a 'legal expert'. Or the next time you need to kill somebody but don't want to be punished for it.


Sources

http://www.aim.org/publications/media_monitor/2003/02/26.html
http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/news/local/5966240.htm
http://conwebwatch.tripod.com/outthere/otthompson.html
http://conwebwatch.tripod.com/outthere/otthompson2.html
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/683184/posts
http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/10/12/sniper.media/index.html
http://money.cnn.com/2003/01/29/commentary/game_over/column_gaming/
http://www.rightgirl.com/1999/jackvsbill.html
http://www.newsmax.com/articles/?a=2000/5/2/85624

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