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7th Level: Sky’s the Limit

By D Magazine |

MICHAEL MILKEN KNOWS A good deal when he sees one. While still in “summer camp” for securities violations, the junk bond king had his assistants looking for investment opportunities in the educational technology field. Out of 80 different companies, he chose Dallas-based 7th Level Inc., before the interactive software company went public in October 1994. A Securities and Exchange Commission ruling barred Milken from voting his 19.2 percent stake in the company. Still, Milken and other investors looking for the next wave in computer technology believe they have discovered a jewel in 7th Level, which was the Cowles-Simba top media stock in the last week of June after the company signed a deal to produce a CD-ROM game based on The Lion King.

With 60 Richardson employees and 100 employees in Los Angeles, 7th Level is probably the only company in the world with a convicted felon (Milken) as a major investor and a Pink Floyd sax player (W. Scott Page) and a Kiss producer (Bob Ezrin) as executive vice presidents.

The company was started in 1992 by George Grayson, who lives in Parker near South Fork. In the ’80s, Grayson and his brother created Micrografx Inc., a highly profitable designer software company that Grayson took public in 1989. By 1991, Grayson had ideas for vastly improving CD-ROMs, which were of poor quality at the time. But when the Micrografx board rejected his plans, Grayson left. He, Page, and Ezrin then founded 7th Level.

Their first CD-ROM title, released in January 1994, was Tuneland with Howie Mandel, a product for preschoolers. It won awards, but the next, Monte Python’s Complete Waste of Time, was an even bigger hit. CEO Grayson took the company public in October 1994, netting about $26 million.

On Aug. 19, 7th Level gave away 10,000 copies of its new tide, Battle Beast, an arcade-style fighting game boasting feature film type graphics, at computer stores around the country. At the other end of the demographic spectrum will be the 1996 release of Q’s Jook Joint, a CD-ROM history of music, from jazz to zyde-co, as seen through the eyes of musician Quincy Jones. And at year’s end, 7th Level will roll out its first educational title, The Universe According to Virgil Reality, featuring comedian (and physics major) Charles Fleischer, (better known as the voice of Roger Rabbit). Grayson is hoping that investors-indicted or not-will stay tuned to 7th Level. “We’re light years ahead of the interactive computer of five years ago,” he says. “And five years from now, you’ll be stunned.”

After agreeing to in-depth interviews with D Magazine, company officials suddenly clammed up. It looked like an attempt to avoid any hint of stock promotion on the eve of a major development. Speculation is that 7th Level may announce a second stock offering soon.

Bar Poll ’95: Judging the Judges

EVERY TWO YEARS, THE DALLAS Bar Association polls its membership to see how lawyers rate the judges they practice before. In this year’s poll, 44th District Court Judge Candace Tyson, who’s been called “the potted plant” and the “mental low rider” of the courthouse, once again brings up the rear, with only 15 percent of the thousand or so lawyers saying they “approve of the judge’s overall performance.” A dismal 14 percent were willing to grant that Tyson “correctly applies the law. “

Of course, Tyson is not the only low-scorer. Victoria Welcome, judge of County Court at Law 3, got an approval rating of just 26 percent, while 72 percent said that she did not correctly apply the law, and 62 percent said she was not “hard-working.” AdolphCanales, longtime judge of the 298th District Court, found favor with only 43 percent of those appearing before him.

Does the poll matter? Does anyone pay attention to these things? Or is the bar wasting its cash on a pointless exercise?

Bar Association President Ralph “Red Dog” Jones thinks it matters. “There’s information for the public there if they want to take the time to use it, ” Jones says. “You hope the judges take it as a sign of what the bar sees and perceives of their abilities.”

But some lawyers see the poll as little more than a popularity contest. “The large firms get together and decide which judges they like and vote accordingly,” says lawyer Ron Wells, who belongs to a small firm.

Defenders of the bar poll’s validity can point to at least one encouraging sign: Judge Tyson had the toughest battle of her political life in the 1994 GOP primary, squeaking by the relatively unknown Suzanne Bass with 50.5 percent of the vote. Maybe the public is catching on.