Joe Francis Not So Wild About Florida Officials

"Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis could be fined for not notifying the court about how he intends to proceed with a lawsuit he filed last year related to his 2003 incarceration in Florida, a judge ruled today.

Francis' lawsuit, filed last Aug. 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court, is an outgrowth of a 2003 First Amendment battle that he and his company, Mantra Films Inc., had with Panama City, Fla., officials.

The lawsuit hit a snag when Robert E. Barnes withdrew in January as Francis' lawyer. Barnes stated that a "substantial strategic difference of opinion precludes (him) from competently discharging the tasks necessary to protect (Francis') rights."

Judge John Shepard Wiley said at the time the case would proceed with Francis representing himself and set trial for July 14. However, Francis did not show up for today's hearing and also has not filed any paperwork since his attorney withdrew, so he could face a fine if he does not tell the court of his intentions by the trial date, the judge said.

Florida law enforcement authorities maintained that Francis, 36, and his associates used underage girls in a "Girls Gone Wild" video. The videos often show young women drinking, dancing and exposing themselves.

Francis alleges he was illegally imprisoned through backroom deals linked to a civil lawsuit filed by several coeds who were featured in a video. Francis claims he was jailed and denied bail for nearly a year, while paying lawyers millions of dollars.

The suit seeks to set aside the settlement Francis maintains was obtained through coercion and duress. Five parents of the young women are named as defendants.

Francis also filed separate actions demanding more than $300 million in damages for what he alleges was illegal conduct by Bay County officials.

"Panama City officials began their persecution of Joe Francis with open deception, continued with perjury and concluded with illegal imprisonment," Barnes alleged previously.

Francis grew up in Laguna Beach and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from USC. He founded Mantra Films when he was 24, marketing his videos via infomercials.
 

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