Joe Francis Only Human “Startled” by $40 Million Verdict Against Him

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"Today, I am incredibly disappointed the jury grossly misinterpreted the facts presented in the courtroom," said the roughly human-shaped piece of slime mold frequently referred to as Joe Francis, after said jury tacked on another $20 million in punitive damages to the $20 million defamation verdict against him. "I'm startled by the jury's verdict," it continued.

That makes one of you.

Joe Francis mugshot

When walking upright

The Francis-beast made millions with "Girls Gone Wild" but has had a number of legal problems, many of which have been documented here in the past. See, e.g., "Joe Francis Arrested Yet Again," Lowering the Bar (Aug. 24, 2011) (linking to lots of other examples). This time he was sued by casino magnate Steve Wynn for defamation, and while you'd think it would be hard to defame somebody in the gambling industry, it was not at all out of reach for Joe Francis, who claimed that Wynn threatened to hit him in the head with a shovel and have him buried in the desert over a gambling debt. Actually, Francis claimed (on Good Morning America) that Quincy Jones told him Wynn made that threat, a theory that was somewhat weakened at trial when Jones testified that it never happened and Francis was forced to admit he had never seen the emails in which the threat was allegedly made.

On Monday, the jury sided with Wynn, awarded him $20 million, and found that Francis had acted with "malice." The latter finding is very relevant (and also non-startling) because it means punitive damages were potentially available, and after another proceeding the jury decided they should be actually available, too.

Apart from the size of the award being kind of ridiculous in absolute terms, there may be other problems with the verdict. I can see at least two legal issues here. First, as one reader has pointed out (so he saw it first), if you've been accused of wanting to hit a guy in the head with a shovel and bury him in the desert, and that guy is Joe Francis, have you really been defamed? Okay, that doesn't matter, but there is a legitimate issue—as pointed out by the California Punitive Damages blog, Francis's attorney has criticized the verdict because he says Wynn did not provide evidence of Francis's financial condition (his net worth). In California, a plaintiff is required to do that in order to get punitives, and a surprising number of big verdicts have been reversed because of this rule. On the other hand, the article suggests that Francis "did not provide financial records" to Wynn, so Wynn may have argued that Francis waived the right to object.

That means this feud will almost certainly continue on appeal, which should take it well into its fifth year (at least). It is actually Wynn's second win against Francis for defamation (that time a mere $7.5 million). There is really no reason to think that Francis is capable of learning to keep his mouth shut, and so maybe we can look forward to a third?

"I still maintain that my life was endangered," Francis insisted on his website, to the sound of crickets. "One day the public will see that I am the real victim here," he continued, and blah blah blah.

UPDATE (sort of): I forgot to use the line I promised another reader I would steal from him: "Joe Francis said Steve Wynn threatened to bury him in the desert. Wynn did it in downtown L.A. instead."