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Necromancer Games' founder and judge Clark Peterson's role-playing on trial

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A public figure's role-playing hobby is once again in the spotlight as founder of role-playing game company Necromancer Games and state magistrate judge in Coeur d’Alene, Clark Peterson, has come under scrutiny by two parties unhappy with his conduct in their civil cases. The invasive article by Scott Maben at The Spokesman-Review posted yesterday has put role-playing on trial, trotting out claims that role-playing is "immature," that it caused Peterson's mind to be "somewhere else" and essentially made him unable to perform his day-to-day duties as a magistrate.

Because Peterson filed for bankruptcy his financials are a matter of public record, and Maben uses his salary and debt, along with specific posts on Paizo's message boards, as evidence supporting Tim Stevens and Michael Tyner's complaints against the judge:

Parties in two civil cases that went before Peterson believe that his hobby, coupled with his financial and marital problems, distracted the judge from his duties, drew out their cases and cost them far more in legal bills than necessary. They also contend that the amount of time the judge spends on message boards and the content of some of his posts – from playful digressions to sexually suggestive banter – fall short of the high standards of conduct expected of judges.

Michael Tyner, a Loon Lake resident who complained about his mother’s probate case taking over 13 months in Peterson’s courtroom, said:

This activity shows a level of immaturity...had this judge been doing his job instead of playing games, his mind somewhere else, he would probably have done the right thing along the line...we don’t know if he’s demon lord in the courtroom or if he’s Judge Peterson in the courtroom. We don’t know because he’s blending the two. He’s on blogging and then he comes into the courtroom.

Tina Stevens, a Coeur d’Alene music school administrator who also appeared before Peterson over a dispute with her ex-husband, said:

Here I’m sitting at $250 an hour with my attorney, and Peterson is costing me money by the minute because he’s showing up late. I just remember thinking, wow, why are we waiting so long to see the judge? And why should he be blogging from his office? I think with his gaming and his divorce and all the things in his life, that he’s not doing his homework. He’s not paying attention.

It should be noted that Maben's article was written prior to Stevens and Tyner filing a complaint against Peterson with the Idaho Judicial Council. Administrative District Judge Lansing Haynes defended Peterson:

Rather than being distracted, I find him to be an extraordinarily focused judge on the cases that are before him...Peterson also is among the first to offer to pick up work assigned to other judges when time opens in his schedule...He’s a real agile thinker and just a great resource to other judges as well.

Peterson defended himself:

It’s classic good-versus-evil fantasy, no different than ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Lord of the Rings,’...I can honestly say it has never impacted my time. I don’t find it to be a distraction. And I’ve certainly not ever delayed a hearing or not done work as a result of that, that’s for sure.

But in light of the concerns shared with The Spokesman-Review, Peterson decided to amend his posting practices, changing his avatar from Orcus (demon prince and lord of the undead), not posting during business hours, and being cautious about when he comments on products for Necromancer Games and his new company, Legendary Games:

Here, it seems a slight modification to my current practices could substantially address many of the concerns and it would be little more than stubbornness on my part not to make such changes, which would be unreasonable, even though I believe I am entitled to continue to do them.

There is far more scrutiny in the article about Peterson's role-playing than on other real-life issues that might be relevant to the dispute. As commenter lovetohateme said:

I'm far more concerned about the points that were simply glossed over in this hatchet job. His messy divorce was mentioned in five paragraphs. His custody battle in one paragraph, his bankruptcy in four and his tax issues in two. But his choice of hobbies shows up in about 60 paragraphs: more than five times as many mentions compared to the distractions of his divorce, child custody battle and inability to handle his finances. I would much rather have a divorce hearing in front of a judge who isn't going through one. I would much rather have a child custody hearing in front of a judge who isn't fighting over his own children in court. And I certainly don't want a judge who is deeply in debt and incapable of paying his taxes, as those kinds of financial troubles demonstrably leave people vulnerable to undue outside influence. But what does this hack article focus on? The fact that he is interested in a game. Can't have that!

This is not the first time public servants have found their role-playing hobbies under scrutiny by their opponents. Ohio Republican congressional candidate Rich Iott was condemned for role-playing a Nazi as part of a reenactment group of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which fought mainly on the Eastern Front during World War II. Iott was repudiated by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and removed from the Republican Party's list of "Contenders." Democratic Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz, running for a Republican-held state Senate seat, was attacked by her opponents with her World of Warcraft board posting as evidence that she was unfit for office. The attempt backfired, with Lachowicz beating her opponent by over 900 votes.

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