Last July, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich approved the first state gaming laws of the post-Hot Coffee era. The Violent Video Games Law and the Sexually Explicit Video Games Law sought to limit the sale and/or rental of games with violent and sexually explicit content. Retailers caught renting or selling such games to persons 18 or under would have been fined up to $1,000 for violating the statute.
But the laws never took effect. On the same day Blagojevich signed them, the Entertainment Software Association said it would file suit to have them overturned. A federal judge ruled with the ESA and fellow industry group plaintiffs in December, declaring the laws unconstitutional.
The next day Blagojevich said he would appeal the ruling, promising to continue "the crusade against violent video games." It now appears that specific crusade has come to an end, or is at least on an extended hiatus.
Blagojevich appealed the judge's ruling in early January, but only the part pertaining to the Sexually Explicit Video Games Law. There has been no such appeal from any party in regards to the Violent Video Games Law. Representatives from Blagojevich's office were not available for comment.
While it's tough to quantify what this case has cost the state of Illinois in lost man-hours and resources, the industry has put a price on its own efforts, and is now asking a judge to have the state foot the bill. The ESA today announced that it filed a petition in the United States District Court seeking to have Illinois ordered to reimburse $644,545 in legal fees that the group spent fighting the laws. ESA president Doug Lowenstein said in a statement that this wasn't the group's preferred course of action.
"We had hoped to reach a settlement without the need to file this petition because we believe it is important to move on, both so Illinois taxpayers know the full cost of this litigation and so we can focus on programs that actually help parents raise their kids safely," Lowenstein said. "Unfortunately, while it was clear we could agree on the amount of fees to be reimbursed, the state made other demands which we could not accept. Accordingly, consistent with our belief that the public has a right to know how much of their tax dollars were spent defending a statute that everyone knew from the start was unconstitutional, we have proceeded with this filing."
Contrary to Lowenstein's comment, it appears the two groups actually could not agree on the amount of fees the industry was due. In a court filing dated yesterday, an attorney for the ESA says that the state has taken exception with the lawyers' hourly rates. When asked for clarification on the discrepancy, an ESA representative said that the two sides had reached a compromise on the issue in principle before those discussions fell through.
Attorneys with the group's legal firm earned between $215 and $585 per hour while defending the case, but the state wanted hourly rates capped at $325 for lawyers with more than three years of experience and $200 for all other attorneys. The time frame during which legal costs are eligible for reimbursement is also being disputed, as are more than $50,000 in various fees and general costs the ESA is seeking above and beyond its legal team's hourly fees.