Joe Francis Complaint Alleges Panama City Judge and Former Law Partners Gone Wild

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Joe Francis Complaint Alleges Panama City Judge and Former Law Partners Gone Wild

Wed Aug 20, 2008 @ 11:03AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Francisjoe Looks like "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis is getting tired of being dragged into court. The public-nudity mogul has unleashed one whopper of a lawsuit alleging  a conspiracy between a U.S. District Judge, the parents of underaged women, the judge's former law partners representing the parents, and Bay County government officials. Francis seeks to rescind a settlement agreement he claims he was coerced into signing.

Here's the complaint, filed yesterday in Los Angeles County Court yesterday. Francis also held a splashy press conference to announce he hopes that Californian jurisprudence swipes down "southern justice gone awry." The complaint even introduces his case by saying his injustice is the same kind of tale that "Nina Simone sang about; William Faulkner wrote about it; historians teach about it."

Enough of the buildup.

Francis got in trouble when his film crew taped 17-year-old women in Panama City in 2003. He claims they entrapped him by pretending to be 18 or older.

He was sued by the parents in Florida and wound up in Judge Richard Smoak's courtroom. Francis says that Smoak was a "long time friend and decade-long former law partner" of Ross McCloy, whose firm represented not only the parents, but previously the Panama City government in a civil suit brought by Francis.

The complaint can hardly contain Francis' disgust at this development: "Imagine if a person in a dispute with a businessman chose their long-time personal friend and business associate to 'independently judge' the dispute with the businessman. Such a claim wouldn't work in a 3rd grade classroom..."

In the civil case, Judge Smoak ordered Francis jailed in 2007 after finding him in contempt of court. Francis was then arrested and imprisoned in Panama City and unable to obtain a release, so he agreed to settlement terms. Francis hasn't disclosed how much he paid, but told the Associated Press the plaintiffs got "a fortune" and previously demanded $70 million.

Now in his lawsuit, Francis says the settlement was only made under duress.

Besides looking to to rescind the settlement, Francis has also filed separate actions demanding over $300 million in damages for the illegal conduct of Bay County officials.

"Panama City officials began their persecution of Joe Francis with open deception, continued with perjury, and concluded with illegal imprisonment," said Robert E. Barnes, attorney for Francis. "That may be what counts for justice in Panama City, but it's not American justice."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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