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Joe Francis Looks to End Lawsuit

Florida- “Girls Gone Wild” has asked a federal judge to do away with the last lawsuit pending against it in Bay County.

Attorneys for four unnamed females sued “Girls Gone Wild” companies and founder Joe Francis earlier this year, claiming the girls were ranging in age from 13 to 17 when they were filmed in stages of undress or engaged in sexual activity.

An amended complaint sought class-action status for the lawsuit, with potentially hundreds of plaintiffs, but U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak recently denied class-action status for the suit.

Three weeks ago, “Girls Gone Wild” attorney Ross Babbitt of Cleveland, filed a motion asking Smoak to dismiss the lawsuit on numerous grounds. The plaintiffs’ lawyers responded last week and Smoak hasn’t yet ruled on the motion.

The girls sued under a federal statute that provides for civil action for victims of child sex abuse against those who victimized them. Babbitt claims that the lawsuit names only the company and Francis, and not those who actually victimized the girls.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Rachel Pontikes of Chicago wrote in her response that they’re claiming that the companies and Francis are the entities that victimized the girls.

“The amended complaint points the finger at Joe Francis and his companies as responsible for sexually exploiting these minors,” Pontikes wrote. “Francis was personally involved in persuading girls to engage in sexually explicit conduct, reviewing the footage, deciding which footage would be used, and Francis was personally involved in training the companies’ employees, independent contractors and agents in targeting and coercing minor girls into flashing or engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”

According to a criminal complaint in 2006, “Girls Gone Wild” production company, Mantra Films Inc., released videos with underage girls engaged in nudity or sexual activity because it did not have a policy in place to ensure the age of the participants in its videos. Some, but not all, of the plaintiffs in this case were allegedly in videos that were sold to the public.

Company representatives in a hearing this year have said there are stringent procedures in place now.

Babbitt also argued that the lawsuit was filed too late, past the four-year statute of limitations. Pontikes said in her response that the statute allows for a seven-year limit and the claim is within that timeframe.

Babbitt said Smoak has a chance, with a ruling in Francis’ favor, to end a recent spate of lawsuits in Smoak’s court from lawyers seeking favorable judgments.

“Those lawyers will hopefully no longer be motivated to trawl for purported ‘victims’ of these defendants, convince those ‘victims’ to bring lawsuits in which their own lawyers call them prostitutes and shine a spotlight on their prior indiscretions,” Babbitt wrote.

Pontikes wrote that this case is “only about the children and how defendants’ sexual exploitation damaged these children’s lives.”

“Defendants approach these proceedings like they approach their compliance with the laws that protect children from sexual exploitation: flippantly and with indifference to the real suffering they have cause,” she wrote.


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