'Girls Gone Wild' founder avoids jail


Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

PANAMA CITY- The multimillionaire founder of the "Girls Gone Wild'' videos avoided going to jail Saturday for yelling obscenities at attorneys representing underaged girls filmed by his production company.

A federal judge found Joe Francis, who turns 34 today, in contempt of court after lawyers for seven women complained he used profanities and screamed at them during civil suit settlement negotiations. The women were filmed on Panama City Beach during Spring Break in 2003.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak had ordered Francis arrested at 5 p.m. Saturday if he did not reach a settlement in the case. But Francis and his attorneys left a Panama City office after 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and said Smoak had agreed that the parties were making progress in their negotiations and that he would stay his order indefinitely.

A smiling Francis said he planned to head to Atlanta on Saturday night and celebrate his birthday by watching the Florida Gators play the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA tournament.

Francis said attorneys for the women who are suing him violated the confidentiality of the negotiations in their motion describing his actions to the judge.

"I am not this tyrant. If I was this judge and I read these one-sided motions I would have one-sided view of what happened,'' he said.

Francis said the women involved in the suit lied about their ages and signed release forms. He said he was not in the country for some of the tapings.

The tapes have not been released, Francis said.

Francis said he found it "unorthodox'' for a judge to use jail time as leverage to force a defendant in a civil lawsuit to settle a case.

In their lawsuits, the women say they were victimized physically and emotionally because they were filmed in sexual situations when they were under the age of 18, the legal age of consent. They are seeking financial damages from Francis, who makes an estimated $29 million a year through his video series.

Michael Burke, Francis' Los Angels-based attorney said negotiations would continue with the help of a mediator. Burke said he did not know when an agreement might be reached.

Earlier on Saturday, D. Ross McCloy, an attorney for one of the women, said he could not comment on the case because of the confidential nature of the negotiations, but confirmed that the order was stayed.

Attorneys for the other women did not return phone calls left by The Associated Press at their offices.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top