A Federal Judge has awarded the Entertainment Software Association attorneys' fees after a Louisiana law regulating the sale of violent video games was found unconstitutional. In being forced to pay the ESA's $91,000 legal bill, Louisiana joins Illinois and a handful of other states that have had to write large checks to the ESA's law firms.
Louisiana's law, which was passed in June 2006, would have fined retailers between $100 and $2,000 and also subjected them to up to one year in prison if they were caught selling violent games to minors. The law, crafted by video game demagogue Jack Thompson, attempted to adapt the Miller obscenity test to cover video game violence.
After the bill's passage, the ESA quickly filed suit to block the law's enforcement and have it declared unconstitutional. In August 2006, Judge James Brady issued a preliminary injunction against the law, and in November he made it permanent. Judge Brady found the studies connecting video game violence and real-world violence that were cited in the legislation "tenuous and speculative."
The judge also had harsh words for the Louisiana state government in his order awarding attorneys' fees. "This Court is dumbfounded that the Attorney General and the State are in the position of having to pay taxpayer money as attorney's fees and costs in this lawsuit," wrote Judge Brady. "The Court wonders why nobody objected to the enactment of this statute. In this court's view, the taxpayers deserve more from their elected officials."
For those keeping tabs on the financial costs offailed video game legislation, the Louisiana decision runs the total tab to over $1.71 million in attorneys' fees that have been awarded to the ESA, including $182,349 in Michigan and over $510,000 in Illinois. That $1.71 million covers nine rulings over seven years. "It's unfortunate that some officials continue to believe that unconstitutional laws are the answer, when time and time again courts have thrown out these bills and proven them to be a waste of taxpayers' dollars," said Gail Markels, senior vice president and general counsel of the ESA in a statement.
In the context of a state budget running in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a $91,000 award may appear to be insignificant. It does demonstrate, however, that there is a tangible cost when politicians embrace a hot-button issue and pass legislation without any reflection on said legislation's constitutionality.