Topic Number One: Libel
I have seen several articles in which the authors accused some player of cheating or some judge of bias. In many cases these people are making the accusations based on the reports they read on websites, or on what friends told them, or whatever. Here are some memorable examples:
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. We will probably hear about more cheating by…"
"…vast bias and inconsistency…" (referring to a head judge.)
In both of the above cases, at least in my opinion, the authors did not do a very good job of proving their cases.
There is a term for publishing an article that personally attacks someone, defames them or holds them up to ridicule: It’s called libel. Having the facts right is a defense (at least in the USA), but you had better make sure all your statements are true and supported by facts.
Author: Libel you, making some unsupported assertions.
Victim: In response, sue the crap out of you, take all your money.
No joke. If you are a writer, go to the library, check out one of the countless books on how to publish and read up on libel. Or talk to an attorney. Seriously – if you want to have your stuff published, you need to know two things to protect yourself: The rules on plagiarism and libel.
Topic number 2: Judges and penalties.
If you look at most criminal codes many particular crimes carry a range of penalties. For example, grand theft auto might be punishable by anything from 6 months to 18 years. Judges may also have the authority to suspend sentence or order probation in lieu of jail time. Prosecutors also have some flexibility in that they can bring charges under differing statutes with different penalties (e.g. killing someone can be first or second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, etc.) Prosecutors may also elect not to charge a person at all.
There is a simple reason for this discretion: Not all crimes are equal.
For example, let’s pretend I take several coats without the owners’ permission. That’s a crime. However, the surrounding factors might convince a prosecutor or judge to be more lenient, or more severe. Here are some examples – would you agree that the penalties should differ?
1) I grab some coats off the restaurant coat rack and run because my family is homeless and cold.
2) I deactivate the alarms, tunnel through the wall, and take several mink coats to resell.
3) I grab several coats at the restaurant and pawn them so I can buy booster packs.
4) I see a bus overturn, there are lots of people lying injured, and it’s sleeting. I grab the coats off the rack and spread them over the victims.
5) It was a prank. I return the coats.
Same penalty in each case?
There may be other factors that should affect the severity of the penalty. If either of the following is true, does that change your opinion on what the sentence should be?
a) I’m a serial coat thief. (I really hope no one quotes this out of context.)
b) I’m deranged. I think that the only way to prevent Wizards from printing more cards like Replenish and Yawgmoth’s Bargain is to destroy all the world’s coats. (Is this possible? Coats – still around. Look at the Judgment spoiler – hmmm. You may want to speculate, quietly, on the connection.)
c) I’m rude and arrogant in court, insult the judge, and trivialize my crime. I show no remorse.
d) I’m six years old.
If you are deciding on the sentence, those factors should have an impact.
The same thing applies with penalty guidelines for Magic. All situations are slightly different; it’s up to the judge to impose the appropriate penalty given the circumstances as he or she sees them. It’s not enough to say "he drew an extra card, so the penalty at this level of enforcement must be ~this.~ " The circumstances can vary. Is this the first time the player has done this, or the fourteenth time this tournament?
Or suppose you have a card in your lap as the match starts. If you are playing Battle of Wits and your opponent just knocked your deck over while shuffling, sending a couple dozen cards off the table, then the judge should consider whether you might have honestly missed one. However, if you have a sixty-card deck and you have a critical combo piece on your lap, that’s a different story.
So when I hear that someone got this penalty, and someone else got that penalty, and how that is so unfair, I generally wonder what I’m not hearing.
Topic 3: Proving it.
I have also heard lots of discussion of various alleged infractions, but the TO and/or the DCI not doing anything about it. However, it’s not enough to have someone say that something happened. You have to be able to prove it. Allegations are not sufficient. It’s only on TV – and bad TV at that – that people are convicted merely because they were bad guys and the good guys were passionate.
In real life, very good lawyers tear such witnesses to pieces. It’s facts and tight reasoning that drive decisions. That, and solid arguments.
Hey, I testify for a living. I know.
If you walk into court, or a regulatory hearing, or whatever, with nothing but hearsay and secondhand allegations, attorneys challenge the basis for your testimony, the Judge sustains the objection, and your testimony – and you – get tossed out of the hearing. And your side loses.
So if you tell a TO that someone added cards to their sealed deck – after the person has gone home – then nothing will happen. You need some evidence.
In a tourney, you catch those people with deck checks. Judges will check a specific deck if someone has good reason… But once the person has dropped, it’s too late. Deck checks happen when you present your deck at the start of a round.
If you think something fishy is happening, call a judge at that time. If all you do is complain to friend later, the DCI won’t act. They can’t without evidence.
Judges will be more vigilant with known or suspected cheaters, but judges can’t single out cheaters until those people have been reported a couple times.
Sometimes, TOs and head judges will make special arrangements – when they suspect someone. Recently, a kid with a history of salting draft decks showed up at the store for FNM. Two Pro Tour-caliber players joined the draft, and the kid was "randomly seated" directly between those two. Personally, I hope the kid was dumb enough to add cards when sitting between two people good enough to be able to say exactly what he was passed, and to be able to credibly verify that he wasn’t passed the cards he played. I would love to see him banned. But that only happened because we had problems with that kid in the past, and we reported him to judges and the storeowner.
Enough – I either made my point, or I’m not going to.
Topic the last: Maher got six months, but Moungey and Butterfield – his co-conspirators – got five years.
How fair is that?
Well, it happens in the real world all the time. It’s called a plea bargain. One co-conspirator provides the evidence to convict the others, and he walks. Or gets a reduced sentence.
That’s the way the world works. In some rare cases, the evidence appears and conviction is easy, but if the evidence is questionable, you get convictions by turning a member of the gang.
If Bob Maher Jr. did feel remorse and turn himself in, as the DCI and others reported it, that would also justify a more lenient sentence.
I don’t have any problem with the DCI’s decisions, or the fact that different members of the same tournament-fixing group got different sentences.
I would like to see the DCI provide more details on the investigations. Star Chamber deliberations are never beneficial. But I can live with their actions so far.
Next time – some real Magic stuff. Promise.
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