It's seeming OT, but a good display of a "moment of clarity" from the judiciary, in the populist banana republic of Louisiana, no less. The judge lays a succinct ass whipping on the legislature and the governor.
Judge: State should have known better
By PENNY BROWN
Advocate staff writer
Published: Apr 16, 2007 - Page: 1-A
Louisianians are stuck paying for lawyers on both sides of a video-gaming law declared unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge James Brady last week ordered the state to pay nearly $100,000 in legal fees to two law firms representing the Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Merchants Association.
In that same decision, the judge writes that he is â€œdumbfoundedâ€ legislators and Gov. Kathleen Blanco wasted taxpayer money by trying to enact such a law.
The two organizations sued the state last year over a law that would have banned minors from buying or renting video games depicting violence.
Brady ruled in November the measure was unconstitutional.
In his latest decision, the judge orders Attorney General Charles Foti and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Doug Moreau to pay the 12 lawyers who represented the computer-gaming industry.
Five attorneys from Jenner & Block of Washington, D.C., will get $38,662; seven from Liskow & Lewis of New Orleans will get $53,332. The lawyers earned between $115 and $250 per hour.
Thatâ€™s less than the $145,871 they requested, which set their hourly rates between $160 and $600. Brady based the final amount on average fees in the Baton Rouge area, then boosted it by 15 percent because legal fees awarded in similar cases have been higher.
In his ruling, Brady admonishes Louisiana politicians at length for taxpayers having to foot the pricey bill.
â€œThe court is dumbfounded that the attorney general and the state are in the position of having to pay taxpayer money as attorneyâ€™s fees and costs in this lawsuit,â€ Brady writes. â€œThe act which this court found to be unconstitutional passed through committees in both the state House and Senate, then through the full House and Senate, and to be promptly signed by the governor.
â€œThere are lawyers at each stage of this process,â€ the judge continues. â€œSome of the members of these committees are themselves lawyers. Presumably, they have staff members who are attorneys as well. The State House and Senate certainly have staff members who are attorneys. The governor has additional attorneys â€" the executive counsel.â€
Brady notes that before the Louisiana Legislature passed the measure, federal courts declared similar laws in a number of other states to be unconstitutional, and the government was ordered to pay substantial lawyer fees. Illinois, for example, paid $510,258 for video-gaming lawyers; Washington, $344,700; and Michigan, $166,449.
â€œThe court wonders why nobody objected to the enactment of this statute,â€ Brady writes. â€œIn this courtâ€™s view, the taxpayers deserve more from their elected officials.â€
The governor and Louisiana legislators last week made no apologies for pushing through the now-defunct measure.
Blanco spokeswoman Marie Centanni said â€œthe governor finds the level of violence in these games unacceptable. The Legislature took action to correct that level of violence, and the governor signed the bill in support of their efforts.â€
The author of the bill, state Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, said he may again pursue passage of a measure to limit sales of certain video games to children.
â€œI respectfully disagree with the judge,â€ he said in an interview. â€œWhen dealing with issues that help safeguard our young people â€" people who cannot defend themselves â€" then I donâ€™t think that is money that is wasted by any means. The state has an interest in protecting young people.â€
Burrell said any proposed new bill â€œobviously would have to take a different approach.â€
â€œSometimes you donâ€™t really know until you get into court how a judge is going to rule,â€ he said. â€œBy going to this effort, lawyers can gather up information from this and other cases and wind up making a really strong case. Iâ€™m sure the bill dealing with obscenity didnâ€™t go through the first time. Hopefully, we can now craft the language that will minimize the devastating effect these videos have on kids.â€
The Louisiana law would have banned sales or rentals of games that in the average personâ€™s opinion, appeal to a minorâ€™s â€œmorbid interest in violenceâ€ and show violence â€œpatently offensive to adult standards.â€ Violators would have faced fines of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in prison.
Jennifer Cluck, a spokeswoman for Foti, declined to comment on the ruling. Efforts to reach Moreau were unsuccessful last week, and state Sen. Craig Romero of New Iberia, a proponent of the measure, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Entertainment Software Association President Douglas Lowenstein has said in a prepared statement that voters â€œshould beoutraged that the Legislature and governor wasted their tax dollars on this ill-fated attack on video games.â€