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Joe Francis Facing Default on Eve of Minor Abuse Trial

We can talk our way out of any paper bag on

from – “Girls Gone Wild” mogul Joe Francis has three days to find a lawyer — and avoid a possible default judgment — in a case in which four women accuse him of sexually exploiting them when they were minors.

After three years of litigation, the lawsuit is set for trial March 28. The plaintiffs sued Francis and three corporate entities he controls for “filming them exposing their breasts and and/or engaging in sexually explicit conduct” for videos in the popular “Girls Gone Wild” series.

On March 16, U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak entered a default judgment against the corporate defendants because Francis had failed to obtain counsel for them. Now Francis could suffer the same fate himself unless he can convince Smoak that he had good reason not to appear at a pretrial hearing March 15.

In a court declaration, he said he has been “earnestly searching for and attempting to retain new counsel,” contacting “dozens” of attorneys and/or law firms over the past few weeks. Those efforts, he added, have been “complicated” by the refusal of one of his former lawyers, Frederick J. Bateman, to turn over the case file.

“I expect to have new counsel make an appearance in this action shortly,” he states.

But the plaintiffs’ lawyers say Francis could have appeared at the pretrial conference even if he didn’t have the case file. And in another court document, Bateman says he has told Francis he would make a copy of the file available to him “upon payment of reasonable costs.”

The mercurial Francis has not been the easiest of clients. Bateman only agreed to represent him if he agreed to honor “the conduct requirements, the ethics requirements and the procedural requirements for moving this matter to trial” but was unable to restrain him from insulting and taunting plaintiffs’ counsel at a deposition.

Had he ever paid girls to masturbate him, he was asked at one point? “Do you?” he replied.

Francis’s most recent attorneys withdrew from the case in January. Bateman has sued Francis for unpaid fees, claiming he owes him $467,312.50, but Francis insists he has paid the entire amount of $288,307.76 due under the retainer agreement.

Smoak will hear evidence March 28 on Francis’s claim that Bateman is withholding the case file from him. If he does enter a default judgment, the case against Francis and his corporate entities will go to trial only on the issue of damages.

Corporations cannot represent themselves and a default judgment can be entered against a corporation that is not represented by a lawyer. In a default damages proceeding, a defendant can only cross-examine witnesses and object to the plaintiff’s evidence.

“Defendants’ numerous [procedural] violations demonstrate a flagrant and willful disregard of the rules of the court,” Smoak said in granting the default against Francis’s corporations.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the plaintiffs’ identities could be withheld during the trial. The woman with possibly the strongest claim, identified only as Plaintiff B, alleges she appeared in a “Girls Gone Wild” video after employees of Francis videotaped her engaging in sexually explicit conduct with another minor female in March 2002.

Francis has declared that he is “fully prepared” to act as his own lawyer if he cannot retain counsel by March 28. Judging by his behavior so far in the case, that would truly be a spectacle to behold.


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