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Giuliani defends ‘Call of Duty’ maker in suit by Panama’s Noriega

Former New York mayor and lawyer Rudy Giuliani is driven away from an L.A. courthouse after asking a judge to dismiss Manuel Noriega's suit against Activision Blizzard.
(Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times)

The maker of the popular “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” video game brought a hired gun, former New York mayor and lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to defend its prized brand from a lawsuit filed by ex-Panama military dictator Manuel Noriega.

Noriega, now 80 years old and imprisoned in Panama on a murder conviction, is suing Activision Blizzard Inc. of Santa Monica, saying he’s entitled to compensation because his image appears in the game without his consent.

On Thursday, Giuliani asked a Los Angeles judge to dismiss the case, saying Noriega had no legal right to pursue damages.

Calling the lawsuit “an abomination,” Giuliani said Noriega is a historical figure and the game is protected as free speech by the Constitution. A victory by Noriega would threaten other works of historical fiction, including books and movies, Giuliani argued.

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William T. Gibbs, a Chicago attorney who represents Noriega, argued in court that it was improper for Activision Blizzard to use the ex-general’s exact likeness without first obtaining his permission.

The lawyer cited another court’s ruling that allowed the pop band “No Doubt” to pursue damages after band singer Gwen Stefani was included in the video game “Band Hero” without her permission.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Fahey said he would issue a ruling on Activision Blizzard’s dismissal request “as soon as I’m able.”

If Noriega succeeds, other historical figures could sue if they don’t like the way they’re portrayed by Hollywood, he said. The case would give them “veto power” over movies they don’t like, Giuliani said, noting that Osama bin Laden’s heirs would have never consented to the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” which documented the U.S. military operation that led to his death.

Activision Blizzard is protected by the 1st Amendment in depicting historical figures in video games, just as the makers of the 2013 movie “The Butler” were justified in using actors to portray former U.S. presidents, Giuliani said.

“He made himself a piece of our history,” Giuliani said of Noriega. “He has no right to recover.”

From a prison in Panama, Noriega signed a declaration that said he first learned about his inclusion in the “Call of Duty” game from his grandchildren, who had played it and wondered “why in the video game their target was to capture my character.”

“I was never contacted regarding the use of my image and likeness,” Noriega said, and “I did not consent” to it. He signed the declaration, “Man!”

After the hearing, Giuliani — never shy in front of television cameras — made his case again in a brief news conference outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

Several passers-by snapped pictures with their mobile phones and paused to listen to Giuliani, the man who sought to reassure New York in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“This case is an outrage and should be thrown out,” Giuliani said. “We didn’t make him a part of history. He did.”

Noriega is the ex-general who ruled Panama from 1983 until 1989, a tenure known for corruption and violence. He was removed from power in a U.S. military invasion, transported to the United States and convicted of drug trafficking.

U.S. officials sent Noriega to France in 2010 to face a money-laundering charge. In 2011, France returned the former dictator to Panama, where he is serving a 20-year prison sentence for the murders of political enemies.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com


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