Michigan ordered to pay legal fees in game law case

Judge tells the state it must give more than $180,000 to a trio of industry trade groups to reimburse them for the cost of having a contested law overturned.

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Any arcade-goer of the Street Fighter II era will be familiar with the "winner stays, loser pays" rule of thumb, and it's one the Entertainment Software Association has been invoking in its many legal battles every chance it gets.

The ESA--along with the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Michigan Retailers Association--won a court case against the state of Michigan in March, convincing a US district court judge to declare the state's restrictions on selling violent games to minors unconstitutional. As a result, the trio of trade groups sought to make Michigan cough up reimbursements for their legal fees, much as Illinois, Indiana, and Washington were ordered to pay legal fees after their game laws were declared unconstitutional.

Yesterday Judge George Caram Steeh granted the trade groups' motion for reimbursement, ordering the state to pay a total of $182,349.14, according to court records. The trade groups had sought almost $220,000 in attorney's fees, but the judge reduced the award, in part because they reused many of the same arguments and court documents that had been prepared for the Illinois case months earlier.

In response to the ruling, ESA president Douglas Lowenstein chastised legislators for their continued efforts to pass and defend violent game restrictions in a statement.

"States that pass laws regulating video game sales might as well just tell voters they have a new way to throw away their tax dollars on wasteful and pointless political exercises that do nothing to improve the quality of life in the state," Lowenstein said. "In nine out of nine cases in the past six years, judges have struck down these clearly unconstitutional laws, and in each instance ESA has or will recover its legal fees from the states. What's worse, the politicians proposing and voting for these laws know this will be the outcome."

This brings the amount of legal fees states have been ordered to cough up in such cases over the $1.5 million mark. However, not every state has paid up. Illinois was ordered to pay more than $500,000 after its law was overturned (the ESA sought more than $644,000), but the state has yet to deliver the funds, saying it is "actively trying to identify the proper funding source and appropriation for the award amount."

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