LOS ANGELES (CN) – A jury awarded casino billionaire Steve Wynn $20 million in his slander case against “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis, who claimed Wynn threatened to kill him with a shovel and bury him in the desert over a gambling debt.
Click here to read Courthouse News’ Entertainment Law Digest.
Francis had claimed that his neighbor, music mogul Quincy Jones, told him about Wynn’s alleged threats and showed him a stack of threatening emails, all of which Wynn denied.
The jury found that there was evidence that Francis slandered Wynn and knew the allegations were false, The Associated Press reported.
Wynn’s attorney had asked the jury for $12 million plus punitive damages. A second phase of the trial to decide punitive damages begins Tuesday.
Francis told the AP that he was “startled by the verdict” and expects it to be overturned on appeal. He claims the judge erred by allowing Wynn’s attorneys to let jurors consider a new claim of slander based on an interview Francis did with “Good Morning America” after the trial started. The jury awarded Wynn $11 million in damages on that claim, the AP reported.
Wynn, the CEO of Wynn resorts like the Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore, attended the trial but not the verdict. He has said he would donate any winnings, minus attorneys’ fees, to charity.
Francis testified during the trial but was not at the verdict. His attorneys argued that he may have been misled by Jones, who denies hearing Wynn utter any threats, the AP reported.
Francis had claimed previously at a court hearing that Wynn threatened him over a $2 million gambling debt at Wynn’s hotel.
“I made a statement in a courtroom seeking a restraining order against Steve Wynn, which is 100 percent privileged,” Francis told the AP. “I was afraid for my life and I only made that statement when I was ordered by a judge to do so.”
Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell ruled that that point could not be argued as protected because it was made during a proceeding over the debt, and there were no indications Francis sought the underlying restraining order.
Wynn claimed in his defamation lawsuit that Francis told TMZ in April that Wynn had threatened to hit him on the head with a shovel and bury him in the desert.
According to Wynn’s lawsuit, “In truth and in fact, Wynn never threatened to kill Francis, nor physically threatened him in any manner, and never said he would hit Francis with a shovel and bury him in the desert.”
Wynn first sued Francis in July 2008, claiming the much-sued soft-core porn king owed $2 million in gambling debts from February 2007. Wynn then sued again in Las Vegas in August 2008, claiming Francis defamed him with false accusations that Wynn stiffs his high rollers.
Francis says he has already paid his alleged debt through agreements and discounts.
- Stanford’s Ponzi Victims Can Advance on SEC
- School District Cleared|in Teacher Assault Case