A Tough Call for Dragon*Con
Over the last week, I’ve had to ponder a very difficult question.
A few years ago, I started to attend a rather remarkable yearly event called Dragon*Con. It’s a wonderful event held each Labor Day in downtown Atlanta; a chance for people to go and be themselves, comrades in any sort of nerdery imaginable, secure in themselves in a way that normally most nerds have to hide from the “normal world.” A place where for the most part, even the common and rivalries between science fiction, fantasy, Star Wars/Star Trek/Babylon 5/Battlestar Galactica, historical costumers, furries, steampunk enthusiasts, vampire/goth, Twilight versus actual vampire/goth, and other genres are more humorous and good-natured than confrontational. A place where you can get a photo opp with Jesus, Master Chief, Kratos, and Wonder Woman all in the same shot, or buy Jonathan Coulton a drink just because he’s awesome.
This year, I was very excited for the thought of meeting one of my favorite artists. But then I found out that Phil Foglio has cancelled his plans for the convention.
The reasons for this are a rather terrible affair. One of the original founders of Dragon*Con is a man by the name of Ed Kramer. Among many things he is an award-winning writer and editor. He’s also been accused of some pretty heinous things and involved in a legal battle over charges since the year 2000.
So getting back to the main story: Phil Foglio isn’t going to Dragon*Con. There’s a major movement to convince convention guests to cancel on it, started by writer Nancy Collins. On the face of it, it sounds reasonable… except that the people pushing this boycott just don’t seem to have their facts straight. Specifically, they are probably right about Ed Kramer, but they seem to be assuming that Dragon*Con has a lot more legal authority or legal ability than is necessarily the case. For instance one of the main complaints from Collins, echoed by Foglio, is the idea that the Dragon*Con board has not done enough to remove Ed Kramer from connection to the convention because well damnit, he’s still receiving a yearly dividend as a stockholder and they should just kick him out already.
That’s… well I’ll let Captain Pointy Ears, as someone more knowledgeable than I, explain:
There have been people suggesting that Dragon*Con Corp “could dissolve the corporation, and then form a brand new corporation without Ed Kramer before lunch.” That is entirely untrue. For one, if they were to dissolve the corporation, the con would lose the Dragon*Con name, which it has spent 26 years building up as a recognizable brand. It could potentially take years to reform the corporation and reinstate a convention from that dissolution. Also, a dissolution would force the con to pay out even more money to Mr. Kramer. BUT. Let’s assume the Dragon*Con Board of Directors decided to take the risk, lose the name, maybe work for years before the con could get started again. They still can’t.
Under Georgia corporate law, Dragon*Con Corp cannot voluntarily choose to dissolve so long as there are outstanding legal cases pending against it. So they can’t force Kramer to sell his stock, and every time they try to take other actions, he files a lawsuit against Dragon*Con Corp so that they cannot dissolve the corporation. If they were to attempt to simply not hold the con in the hopes of forcing Kramer to sell, he could sue the con for negligent use of IP and get even more money, and still own 31% of the convention’s shares. The city of Atlanta and local businesses would be hurt by the lost income normally produced by the influx of 40~50,000 attendees spending money.
There are all sorts of issues tied up in this discussion. Ed Kramer is accused (charged multiple times over longer than a decade) of various acts of pedophilia. But he is not now and has not ever been convicted in a court of law. As far as the system is concerned, all his other legal rights are still intact and he’s still presumed innocent until such time as a guilty verdict is handed down by a jury of his peers or until he pleads guilty and has a conviction entered by a judge on that basis. On one side of this argument, people say his lawyers have gamed the system for time and delayed the trial indefinitely, and that the majority of blame for delay of trial lies with Kramer; at least one appeals court has agreed. On the other side of the argument, several times in the past his accusers have recanted, or settlements have been discussed in the cases that would drop the charges, or the prosecuting authorities have placed the case on hold. His defenders (and they do exist) have their own take on the matter that generally involves accusing various authorities within the State of Georgia of various acts of malfeasance or malice.
Meanwhile the claim that many (including Foglio and Collins) have made is that Dragon*Con has “ignored” the situation or not done anything about it is a terrible inaccuracy. Dragon*Con as an entity have done a pretty thorough job of trying to separate themselves. They’ve banned Kramer from the convention since the year 2000 (when the first charges were filed); they removed him from the board of directors that same year. They’ve forbidden on-site solicitations or collections for Kramer’s legal defense fund (a “we take your convention badge and eject you from the convention” level offense). They’ve tried to buy out his shares of the convention, but only managed to reduce his ownership from 51% to 31%. Attempts to buy out the remaining 31% have been rejected by Kramer and they have no legal authority to force him to sell. Dragon*Con withheld Kramer’s dividends for several years, to which Kramer responded with a lawsuit and won a judgement against Dragon*Con forcing them to pay. Kramer also has sued over being banned from the convention, over his removal from the board of directors and over his being disallowed any involvement or decision-making votes in how the convention is run.
There’s also a lingering question of what Dragon*Con or their associated board members or staff are really allowed to say on any of this, publicly or otherwise, regarding things already in the news or subject of the lawsuits. There may be gag orders or just lawyerly advice telling them not to discuss the situation in connection with lawsuits from Ed Kramer. When it comes to people insisting Dragon*Con make a public statement denouncing Ed Kramer or divert money from the convention to some charity for abused kids, I highly suspect this question has to be considered.
Now I’m torn over this whole situation. On the one hand: if you attend Dragon*Con, technically speaking, some of your money does wind up going into the hands of Ed Kramer. Given the operating expenses and staffing expenses of a convention that size I don’t think it’s all that much, but for some people even a penny is too much, and for some people the moral idea or consequences of giving money to an entity that they know will be legally obligated to give even that penny to someone unsavory is too difficult.
At the same time, I doubt those people proactively check the stockholder lists of every company they ever do business with to see if any accused-but-not-convicted (or for that matter,convicted-but-still-
I’m not trying to make a definitive statement here, but I’d like to get some considered opinions from the League. For those with legal experience or a legally oriented mind, is there something I’m missing that Dragon*Con could or should be doing that they aren’t? Is there a point at which the moral calculus says “go” or “don’t go”? Is it appropriate to advocate against the entire convention because Ed Kramer owns a minority of the stock (and refuses to sell)? Are there other perspectives to consider?