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Joe Francis, the founder/owner of the Girls Gone Wild entertainment company that sells DVDs and magazines, and produces pay per view events, has filed suit in Los Angeles to rescind a mediation agreement in a civil suit brought by women he filmed in Florida five years ago.
Francis alleges that he was coerced into settling after Florida U.S. District Court Judge Richard H. Smoak jailed him for his mediation conduct in March 2007.  He was incarcerated by Smoak for nearly a year because of his mediation room actions in the case, which was brought by a former video subject who claimed she was underage at the time Francis filmed her.  Girls Gone Wild soft-porn videos feature young women exposing themselves in party settings, and having sex.

In an opinion late last year, Smoak said Francis went well beyond aggressive and antagonistic, ruling that the court wouldn’t tolerate violent behavior.  

Francis’s complaint, available his website home page, alleges a broad conspiracy among law enforcement officials in Panama City, Fla., where Francis and his crew went to film the 2003 Spring Break festivities.

In addition to seeking to rescind the mediation settlement, Francis on Monday filed a suit demanding more than $300 million from city, state and federal officials for violating his Constitutional rights, and conspiring to wreck his company and his career.

The recission suit is unapologetic, and alleges that the mediation misconduct came from Judge Smoak, not Francis. “Based on the Court’s comments,” according to the complaint, “Francis reasonably believed that he had to settle the [a]ction in order to avoid being jailed.”  It says he mediated in good faith.

The Associated Press reports that Francis previously said he settled the case for $70 million, but he had declined comment at Monday’s news conference on the settlement amount, describing it as “a fortune.”

Alternatives, published by the CPR Institute and Jossey-Bass, discussed at length Francis’s conduct in two articles.  See Michael Young, “Mediation Gone Wild:  How Three Minutes Put an ADR Party Behind Bars,” 25 Alternatives 97 (June 2007), and “Update: Despite Mediation-Related Incarceration, Girls Gone Wild Founder Is Headed for More ADR,” 26 Alternatives 66 (March 2008). [Both articles are available from John Wiley & Sons here, or free for CPR Institute members here; Young set up a Web page looking at the initial case containing the court papers hereAlternatives was presented in June with a second-place award in the category of Best Interpretive or Analytical Reporting in the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation 2008 awards competition for its Francis coverage.].  

Francis announced the suit earlier this week in characteristic fashion, with a news conference, and a new film on his website you can view here.  In the web video, Francis is seated in front of an American flag, and asks his “millions of supporters,” according to a press release, to join his First Amendment battle.  

Francis asks website visitors to write to U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D., Mich., to begin proceedings to impeach Judge Smoak.  “Let the head of that committee know Judge Smoak’s role in this travesty of justice,” says Francis in the video.  “When a person is jailed without bail for 11 months in a civil lawsuit, it violates the U.S. Constitution and our basic freedoms and liberties.”

–Russ Bleemer
Editor, Alternatives