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Judge orders Francis jailed

The `Girls Gone Wild' maker is found to be in contempt after talks to end a lawsuit fall apart.

April 06, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge in Panama City, Fla., on Thursday ordered "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis jailed for contempt of court in a civil suit brought by seven young women who claimed the entrepreneur's film crews had placed them in sexually explicit situations.

Francis, the Santa Monica-based multimillionaire who has made a fortune selling risque videos of scantily clad coeds, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak to surrender to court by noon Thursday, but hadn't done so by mid-evening.

Francis told the Associated Press late Thursday that Smoak "had lost his mind."

"This judge has gone as far as to call me the devil and an evildoer," he said. "It is a case of a judge gone wild."

The court order followed a last-minute collapse in settlement talks between Francis' legal team and lawyers for the women, who were filmed on a Florida beach in 2003. The plaintiffs allege that they were "victimized" by Francis' crew by being put in explicit scenes.

"It is not the judge's role to compel a settlement with the threat of putting one of the parties in jail," said Francis lawyer Jan L. Handzlik, who is appealing the judge's order.

Plaintiffs' attorney Larry Selander declined to comment.

Smoak originally found Francis, 34, in contempt last week after plaintiffs' lawyers complained that Francis had shouted obscenities at their clients in a March 21 outburst during the settlement negotiations.

Smoak ordered Francis jailed if an accord had not been reached in the case by Saturday, but he suspended that order when it appeared that a deal had been struck.

At an emergency hearing Wednesday, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the judge that he thought the case was resolved but then learned Francis had altered the offer, making it unacceptable to his clients.

A mediator said Francis insisted on a payment plan that would stretch several years.

"He may have snookered us and gotten out Saturday, but he's coming back," Smoak said.

The judge reinstated his civil contempt order, which means Francis could be jailed until a formal mediation session is set up and he participates in a "meaningful" way.

josh.friedman@latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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