Whatever you think about Jack Thompson, there are times when he can play the media like a Stradivarius. And so it was that he managed to hold the attention of both the mainstream and gaming press for several weeks in 2006 while he sought to block the release of Rockstar’s Bully in Florida.
Thompson’s unusual suit, which charged that the T-rated Bully was a public nuisance, came before Judge Ronald Friedman on the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. In an early-round win for Thompson, Friedman ordered Take Two to produce the game for an in-chambers viewing prior to its retail launch.
That would be Thompson’s only victory in the case, which quickly turned contentious (anyone surprised?). Thompson blasted Friedman endlessly following the judge’s ruling that he would not grant Thompson’s petition to block Bully’s release. Thompson upped the ante by announcing that he would run for Friedman’s seat in 2008. We note that Thompson does not appear to be following through on that claim.
For his part, Judge Friedman wasted little time in filing a complaint against Thompson with the Florida Bar. The Friedman complaint was one of several on which the Bar opted to take Thompson to trial last November. In this multi-part series GamePolitics has been publishing excerpted transcripts from the video game-related portions of the Thompson Bar trial. Today’s edition covers the direct testimony of Judge Friedman. Due to the length of Friedman’s testimony, Thompson’s cross examination of the judge will appear in the next installment.
( In the excerpted transcripts that follow, RF is Judge Ronald Friedman. JT is Thompson, TUMA is prosecutor Sheila Tuma and DT is Judge Dava Tunis, who is presiding over the case…)
TUMA: Can you tell us what Mr. Thompson asked you to do to make the determination of entering an injunction [to bock the release of Bully]?
RF: He wanted me to review the game and prohibit its distribution, which was scheduled a few days later, maybe a week later.
TUMA: Did you entertain his request?
RF: I did… I heard arguments from both sides. The counsel for the defendants [Take Two] did not think it was necessary to do any of this because under the First Amendment, they had a right to make the distribution.
Mr. Thompson believed this video was so bad that it should be prohibited from distribution to teenagers; and as bad as he made it sound, I indicated that I would in camera view the entire game. I ordered counsel to provide the equipment as well as somebody who could operate the equipment – I wouldn’t know how to do it – and have him come down from, I believe it was New York.
They met – Mr. Thompson was present as well – in my chambers and proceeded to play the video. Now, even though I indicated that I would watch the entire game, they had I think what they call a cheater. They can skip from one spot in the game to another spot, etc. So it wasn’t necessary – they indicated it would take about 200 hours to view the entire game, which of course would have been day and night for a long time.
I viewed somewhere bewteen and hour, and hour and a half of the video from spot to spot to get an idea of what the game was and, hopefully, the worst parts of the game. I made the determination – and I set a hearing for the following week – but I made a determination while I was watching it that it did not rise to the standard that would be required to prohibit the game under the First Amendment, which would be a standard of something that would incite to immediate violence.
While I found the game offensive… I wouldn’t want my granddaughter watching it and it probably should have a different rating, that is, a mature rating rather than a teenage rating. That’s not my call. That may be for the legislature or Congress or some other body, but under the First Amendment, they had the right to make that distribution…
TUMA: I would like you to look at Exhibit 48… Can you identify that letter, please?
RF: This is a memorandum from Jack Thompson to myself by e-mail and it is dated… October 13th, 2006… "Now that you have consigned innumerable children to skull fractures, eye injuries from slingshots and beatings with baseball bats without a hearing as to the danger, let me tell you a few things, with all respect for your office and with no respect for the arbitrary way in which you handled this matter-"
JT: Let me object, as I did yesterday [during Blank Rome attorney Rebecca Ward’s testimony] to reading portions of the letter. Obviously, the full context is the letter itself… Of course, the fact that Ms. Tuma is doing this underscores the reason why she’s doing it. She’s trying to highlight some portion of this out of context. It’s improper. It’s also reversible error [on appeal].
DT: Do you have any response, Ms. Tuma?
TUMA: No, Your Honor, the same response as yesterday [that the full letters are submitted as evidence for Judge Tunis’ review].
DT: Okay. The objection is overruled and Judge Friedman is available for cross examination. The Court is not going to limit your questions regarding these documents that are in evidence.
JT: Your Honor, I don’t like to argue with you, but just to protect the record. The opportunity for cross examination has absolutely nothing to do with what the prosecutor is doing and what’s improper that she’s doing. And that is she can’t have this witness or any witness testify to anything out of context… So having said that… Can I have a standing objection?
DT: Yes, sir…
TUMA: If you can go to the third paragraph…
RF: "What you conducted in your chambers, Judge, was the equivalent of Iran leading U.N. weapons inspectors around the country, taking them to places where the illegal activity was not occurring… I couldn’t care less what you did to me. What I care is that you, through judicial arrogance, have hung countless kids out to dry at school that will now be meaner and more dangerous. 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 in a violent video game. Try mocking that person, I dare you."
TUMA: Can you tell the Court who that letter is copied to?
RF: Defense counsel, the media and the Florida JQC [Judicial Qualifications Commission, i.e the agency that monitors judges].
Tuma: …can you move to Exhibit 49? …Can you tell the Court what that document is?
RF: "Verified motion to recuse presiding judge."
TUMA: And that was to recuse you in the case of Mr. Thompson?
RF: Yes, ma’am.
TUMA: Can you go to page two of that Exhibit, please? …In paragraph 10, can you read the sentence…?
RF: "The late respected Dade Circuit Court Judge Reah Pincus Grossman, when she returned to the practice of law could not abide appearing before this judge, and now the undersigned [Thompson] knows why."
TUMA: Do you know Judge Grossman?
RF: Very well.
TUMA: Is she deceased?
RF: Rumors of her demise are greatly exaggerated.
TUMA: Is that a no?
RF: She is not deceased.
TUMA: Can you tell me, have you had a conversation with her regarding the statement that Mr. Thompson has made in this pleading?
RF: I was shocked to learn she had died. So I called her office, only to find that she had not. I spoke with her and she was just as shocked as I was about these pleadings.
TUMA: Can you tell the Judge what she told you if she ever spoke to Mr. Thompson?
RF: She said she didn’t know Mr. Thompson, she has never spoken to Mr. Thompson, and she certainly didn’t agree with anything alleged by Mr. Thompson.
TUMA: Thank you. Can you now read paragraph 11…?
RF: "The behavior of this judge was abominable, which was made all the worse by the fact that he engaged in these childish antics in front of the media in the courtroom."
TUMA: Thank you… can you please go to Exhibit 50…?
RF: This is a letter from Mr. Thompson to myself dated October 17th, 2006… "When the victims start contacting me, I’ll tell them how you prevented the hearing and didn’t review the entire game before you unleashed it upon them. I have never run into a more discouraging abortion of justice than in your courtoom. But it’s not about me, Judge Friedman. It’s about these kids. You think the riot in the OD -" that’s the Orange Bowl – "was bad? Just wait."
TUMA: Thank you. Can you look at Exhibit 51 and identify that for the Court?
RF: A letter from Mr. Thompson to myself dated October 18th, 2006… "Gee. Care to go for violating 10 of your own orders in one week, Judge Friedman? How about your oath of office? We can count that as one… I’m wondering where this judicial misconduct is going to take us all… I have a pretty good idea, even if you don’t. The great thing about our system of law is that it was spawned in the crucible of throwing off the yoke of a tyrant."
TUMA: Can you look at the next Exhibit…
RF: This is a [Thompson] pleading in the same case… "The Court then unethically and improperly then proceeded to enter his ruling in contravention of its own order… He then denied Thompson’s request to cross examine and the Judge then violated his own order to view the game to completion, topped off by his childish and unethical refusal to conduct a hearing the next day as he had ordered… If this [Friedman’s] Court is so foolish as to enter a show cause order [for contempt, against Thompson] as Take Two requests for trying to remedy this Court’s unethical misconduct… then the aforementioned federal civil rights action will be amended to add this judge."
TUMA: Thank you. Can you please look at Exhibit 53?
RF: …This is a news release entitled, "Dump the Bully Judge." …"Thompson has chosen his opponent carefully, incumbent Ronald M. Friedman. Friedman is the man… unleashing upon America’s preteen and teen children the extremely violent Columbine simulator video game Bully."
TUMA: And if you could go to the last of the media news release?
RF: …"Circuit Court Judge Ronald Friedman is the embodiment of what more and more citizens understand to be the greatest domestic threat to liberty, a tyrannical judiciary that thinks it is above the law."
TUMA: And if you now look at Exhibit 54 and identify it for the record.
RF: This is a letter from Mr. Thompson dated October 24th, 2006 to the Attorney General of the United States… "Now [Take Two’s law firm] Blank Rome is at it again, having enlisted a pliable Circuit Court Judge, Ronald M. Friedman, to abuse his contempt power to try to throw me in jail for for blowing the whistle on the judge’s incredible misconduct and Take Two Blank Rome’s as well. Judge Friedman… has improperly paved the way for a Columbine simulator video game to be sold to children. Interestingly, this game also contains gay sexual activity. Real cool stuff for 10-year-olds, no?"
TUMA: And this letter was also cc’d to Blank Rome, the media, congressional Democrats and yourself?
RF: That’s correct.
TUMA: Can you please look at Exhibit 55?
RF: …It’s a letter from Mr. Thompson dated October 24th, 2006 to myself… "Dear Judge Friedman: Transmitted herewith is my application for [your] recusal… If you cannot decide whether or not to grant it, then I would suggest flipping a coin. Heads I win, tails you lose…
TUMA: Can you look at the next exhibit 50 and identify that for the Court, please?
RF: …This is a pleading in the Bully case [from Thompson]… "Defendant’s [Take Two] position – and it appears to be this Court’s position as well – is that it can order secrecy worthy of a Star Chamber in order to shroud its misconduct from any review of any kind, judicial or public… However, this court has indicated that it looks with favor upon the notion that it can use its contempt power to cover up from judicial and public scrutiny its misconduct… Judge Friedman has even drawn his pleasant judicial assistant into this cover-up, the Judge’s misconduct charade… This court now appears to be in full court press to abuse its contempt power to keep the lid on how thoroughly it botched its duty to have a real judicual inquiry into whether… the sale to school children of this Columbine simulator, poses a safety risk as the Miami-Dade School Board found unanimously that it did."
TUMA: "Thank you. Can you now look at Exhibit 60?"
RF: …A [Thompson] pleading in this case… "…This is not acting like a judge. It’s acting like a Bully. How ironic. How appropriate. No wonder this [Friedman’s] Court had no problem with hundreds of fists landing on students’ faces. He [Friedman] beats up lawyers for fun himself…"
TUMA: Can you please look at Exhibit 62 and read that for the record?
RF: …A [Thompson] pleading in this case… "Judge Friedman was hoodwinked by Take Two employees who sat there in his chambers and presented to Judge Friedman with unsworn testimony with no cross examination by Plaintiif [Thompson], to which Plaintiff objected on the record, by falsely stating this [Bully] is not a violent game and that violence is uniformly punished in the game. These were lies which this Judge swallowed hook, line and sinker… Is this Judge [Friedman] going to admit to the whole world that he was taken for a ride by Take Two; that he violated his own orders in not reviewing the game to conclusion; and that his own misconduct was a travesty that explains why we are sitting here with tens of thousands of these [Bully] units sold abd played by minors?… Does a single sane person… think that this judge… is going to prove himself to have been fooled by a porn to kids video game company that is now know to have placed homosexual acts in this game sold to 10-year-olds?"
TUMA: …If you can look at Exhibit 64…
RF: This is a transcript of proceedings before myself on October 25th, 2006 in this [Bully] case… My recollection is that there were two matters that were supposedly to be heard. One was the matter of contempt that the defendants [Take Two] were seeking [against Thompson] and the other was the [Thompson] issue of recusal [of Judge Friedman].
TUMA: Did you recuse yourself in this case, Your Honor?
RF: I did… Because I filed a complaint with the Florida Bar… As the Court has heard… I thought that the conduct of Mr. Thompson was unprofessional and violative of his oath as a lawyer in the state of Florida. I thought, number one, while I found it offensive and I, like everyone else, don’t like to have my name besmirched; nevertheless, even if everything he said about me was true – and it was very hurtful to me – it was an abuse of his oath because it was demeaning to our system of justice and the court system, and I couldn’t tolerate that.
TUMA: Thank you. Can you now look at Exhibit 65…
RF: That’s a letter from Thompson to myself, October 25th, 2006… "Here’s a tip for you, Judge. I don’t just practice law. I save lives from reckless jurists like you… I serve those broken-hearted people, not arrogant tyrants like you… I’m a lot of bad things, but I’m not a liar. You are. You promised and ordered hearings that never occurred and you even told the nation that you reviewed a video game that you didn’t even see but for one percent of it. You then came out before the cameras and pronounced the game perfectly safe. You’re the kind of guy who would wave into the intersection a child to be run over by a semi. I’m looking forward to my judicial race against you and win or lose, you’re going to be exposed as the prevarictator and a facilitator of violence and porn to kids that you are. You will never agree to a debate in our race because you can’yt control that situation. You won’t have a Sheriff to shut me up. America’s a great place where citizens get to cleanse the public dole of thugs like you. I’m looking forward to doing just that…"
TUMA: If you can look at Exhibit 66, Judge…
RF: This is entitled, "An open letter to the Florida Bar about the Bully judge," dated October 27th, 2006… "There’s a transcript of the bizarre seance he [Friedman] held in his office with Take Two employees giving him testimony, not under oath, and preventing cross examination by me. I call it the Kim Jong Il guided tour of North Korea to find where the nukes are not…"
TUMA: I just have one last question. Can you explain to the Court the effect that Mr. Thompson’s conduct and sending you these letters have had on you?
JT: Objection, relevance.
RF: Well, I think I previously said it hurt me to see in writing or even hear somebody demean me the way he has. But I was even hurt more for our judiciary because I wear the robe – and it’s not about me. It’s about our system of justice and the respect that’s due to the judiciary.
NEXT: Jack Thompson cross-examines Judge Friedman…
WHILE YOU’RE WAITING: Check out this amazing video of Thompson’s appearance in Judge Friedman’s court, filmed by Niero of Destructoid.