Sanctioning Jack Thompson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One question occasionally discussed in adult industry circles is whether a person has to be insane in order to wholeheartedly accept fundamentalist religious doctrine, or whether accepting fundamentalism is merely a step on the road to insanity. Perhaps some insight into the question may be gained by considering the case of Florida attorney John Bruce "Jack" Thompson, who's currently engaged in disbarment proceedings through a lawsuit by the Florida Bar Association, and who has just been sanctioned by the Florida Supreme Court for, among other violations, "submitting inappropriate and pornographic materials to this Court."

According to Wikipedia , the Florida Bar's lawsuit is based on "separate grievances filed by people claiming that Thompson made defamatory, false statements and attempted to humiliate, embarrass, harass or intimidate them," as well as accusations against Florida attorney Alberto Cardenas for engaging in "distribution of pornography to children," and against the Philadelphia-based law firm Blank Rome, to whose managing partner Thompson wrote, "Your law firm has actively and knowingly facilitated by various means the criminal distribution of sexual material to minors."

Thompson had first sued the Florida Bar in 1992, claiming that the association had engaged in a vendetta against him because of his religious beliefs, which he said conflict with what he called the bar's pro-gay, humanist, liberal agenda. Thompson accepted $20,000 in an out-of-court settlement of the suit. Ten years later, he again complained of the Bar Association's actions in a letter to the Florida Supreme Court, but withdrew the charges two weeks later. In 2006, Thompson asked the U.S. Attorney in South Florida to investigate the Florida Bar for a "documented pattern of ... illegal activity, which may sink to the level of criminal racketeering activity, in a knowing and illegal effort to chill my federal First Amendment rights," and in April of that year, filed suit against the Bar, charging that the organization had harassed him by investigating what he called "baseless complaints made by disgruntled opponents in previous disputes." All of this has underpinned the Florida Bar's attempts to disbar Thompson.

The disbarment matter is currently before a referee who is attempting to settle the dispute between the two parties, but that didn't stop Thompson from submitting documents allegedly relating to the case to Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno – who promptly sealed the filing because the documents depicted "gay sex acts." That and numerous other filings with the district court impelled the Florida Supreme Court, in February, to order Thompson to show cause why the high court should not reject future court filings from him unless they are signed by another Florida Bar member, and on March 20, it imposed sanctions on Thompson, requiring him to comply with its show-cause order. The Court described his "numerous meritless filings" as "repetitive, frivolous and insult[ing to] the integrity of the court," particularly one which Thompson referred to as a "children's picture book for adults," in which Thompson, claiming concern about "the court's inability to comprehend his arguments," included images of "swastikas, kangaroos in court, a reproduced dollar bill, cartoon squirrels, Paul Simon, Paul Newman, Ray Charles, a handprint with the word 'slap' written under it, Bar Governor Benedict P. Kuehne, a baby, Ed Bradley, Jack Nicholson, Justice Clarence Thomas, Julius Caesar, monkeys, [and] a house of cards."

"In addition to insulting the Court’s dignity," said the Supreme Court's per curiam opinion (indicating that the entire Court agrees), "the picture-laden motion was admittedly repetitive of claims that had previously been raised, and Thompson had already been advised that he should wait to raise these claims on review of the referee's report... Thompson’s multiple responses [to the show-cause order] are rambling, argumentative, and contemptuous."

Most Florida-based First Amendment attorneys are well aware of Thompson's escapades.

"I'm very familiar with his efforts," said attorney Luke Lirot. "I think he's certainly illustrative of the obsessive ideology that many of the opponents of sexual speech hold near and dear to their hearts, and just because you're a member of the Bar doesn't mean you don't fall victim to the intolerance and oppression that seems to dominate the thought patterns of opponents to sexual speech. I think his ideology's misguided. If he were doing his job properly and respecting his oath to uphold the Constitution, he's be out there looking to protect this form of expression rather than censor it."

As to both the Florida Bar's disbarment proceedings and the Supreme Court's order, Lirot isn't surprised.

"He apparently can't take 'no' for an answer," Lirot opined. "Let me tell you something: I've faced many a vexatious litigator, and you really have to go significantly beyond the pale in order to get the Bar's attention. It has to be vexatious to the point of nausea."

"Every asshole should have their First Amendment rights," observed Ft. Lauderdale-based attorney Jamie Benjamin. "Every court has rules, and if we represent anybody else, we have to follow the rules in representing whoever we represent, so why should this guy, who may be pro se, which is representing himself, not have to follow the same rules that every other lawyer representing a client has to follow? So if he followed all the rules, I don't think they would be mad at him, because he has a legal right to file legally sufficient motions."

However, Thompson's law career since arriving in Florida with his wife in 1976 has been so contentious regarding free expression that one has to wonder whether his conversion to "born-again Christianity" shortly after his arrival had somehow deranged his thought processes.

Some of the "highlights" of Thompson's career thereafter include:

• Giving a letter to then-Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno in 1988 as she was running for reelection, asking that she "check a box to indicate whether she was homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual." (Reno reportedly then put her hand on Thompson's shoulder and said, "I'm only interested in virile men. That’s why I'm not attracted to you.") (Thompson filed a police report accusing her of battery for touching him.)

• Campaigning to have local Florida officials block sales of 2 Live Crew's "Nasty As They Wanna Be" album, after his requests to Reno to investigate the group for obscenity were rebuffed. According to Wikipedia, "In sending documents to opponents, Thompson would frequently attach a photocopy of his driver's license, with a photo of Batman pasted over his own, just to make sure they knew who they were dealing with... He also wore a Batman wristwatch [and] compared [2 Live Crew singer Luther] Campbell to the Joker." (The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals eventually declared the album not to be obscene.)

• Stating that, "In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers," and termed the games themselves, "mental masturbation."

• Filing a $33 million lawsuit on behalf of parents of children shot at school against various video game manufacturers, the producers of the documentary The Basketball Diaries and adult Internet sites, charging that they all were "negligent in distributing this material to a minor because it would desensitize him and make him more prone to violence." The suit was dismissed, with the judge finding that the "thoughts, ideas and images" contained in the games, movie and sites were not "products" that could be considered defective.

• Harassing, in the press and through lawsuits, the manufacturers and retailers of video games Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto IV, Manhunt 2 and Bully, claiming variously that the games "cause copycat violence," "violated a law against sale of sexual materials deemed harmful to minors," and taught one underage shooter "how to point and shoot a gun in a fashion making him an extraordinarily effective killer without teaching him any of the constraints or responsibilities needed to inhibit such a killing capacity."

• Getting Howard Stern's radio show taken off the air in Orlando, claiming that Stern used obscenities during broadcasts.

It is unclear what Thompson will do in response to the sanction order, since he has claimed that the Florida Bar will "investigate" any attorney Thompson might employ to help him comply with the order. However, Thompson has not yet appealed to the Free Speech Coalition or its members for help.