Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis spent nearly 12 months in jail, not because he was convicted of a crime, but because he’d been denied his 8th Amendment Constitutional right to bail. Certain corrupt officials in a small Florida town seemed intent on making some sort of example of him. Then, seizing on an opportunity to use publicity generated by these Florida politicians’ persecution of Francis, the IRS decided to launch a noisy investigation of Joe’s tax filings and charge him with multiple felony counts of tax evasion, all of which were eventually dropped, but not until Francis had been put through a lengthy legal nightmare that has only recently ended.
Francis was sent to jail by a Panama City (Bay County), Florida judge because he would not settle a civil (for money) lawsuit brought against him by a lawyer who happened to be the judge’s friend and ex-law partner. The judge found Francis in civil contempt of court for not settling the lawsuit but cited no legal basis for ordering Francis to jail in a civil matter. The judge then used the fact that Francis showed up four days late to turn himself in for the illegal “settle or jail” order to charge him with criminal contempt. The new trumped-up charge of criminal contempt gave the judge a legal basis to hold Francis in jail.
Francis’ whole legal situation started during Spring Break 2003 in Panama City when officials tried to block Girls Gone Wild and Francis from coming to their town to film a Spring Break Pay Per View event. Francis responded by filing a First Amendment lawsuit against Panama City (Bay County) as well as the Mayor, the Sheriff, and the Chief of Police, individually. Francis was victorious in his First Amendment lawsuit forcing city officials to back down. This enraged the Panama City officials and they went after Francis with a vengeance.
In order to distract from Francis’ First Amendment victory, two weeks after his triumph over the city officials, Panama City charged Francis with a staggering list of 71 criminal charges carrying a potential prison sentence of 335 years if Francis was convicted. The laundry list of charges against Francis included everything from drug trafficking to racketeering. Prior to these charges Francis had never been arrested or in trouble with the law in his entire life. Panama City officials seized Francis’ private jet and announced in a press release that a “quantity of cocaine” had been found on the plane. This claim, as well as many others made by the Sheriff’s Department, turned out to be a complete lie.
The basis for the original criminal charges against Francis involve an incident during Spring Break 2003 in which a cameraman who was an independent contractor not directly employed by “Girls Gone Wild,” filmed sexual situations involving two seventeen year old women who lied about their ages, claiming to be eighteen, on camera and in written releases, in order to appear on “Girls Gone Wild.” Joe Francis was not present and didn’t even meet the women until after the filming. The video of the women was never released by Girls Gone Wild.
In America, the vast majority of criminal defendants accused of everything from petty theft to murder are given bail. In fact, the 8th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to bail. Despite the fact that Joe Francis had been declared neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, he was kept behind bars without bail for over eleven months.
Francis’ legal team filed numerous motions requesting bail, but every request was turned down. ?The mayor of Panama City went on national television and called Joe Francis “scum sucking trash” and made the outrageous claim that Joe Francis and “Girls Gone Wild” were essentially banned from Panama City.
The judge issued a “Settle or Jail” ultimatum forcing Francis to settle a civil lawsuit from a jail cell with the women who lied about their ages to appear on “Girls Gone Wild.”
Remarkably, the judge, a former law partner of a lawyer representing the girls who lied about their ages, was not disqualified from, nor did he recuse himself from the case.
Florida District Attorney Steve Meadows committed a second-degree felony in an attempt to keep Francis behind bars.
Joe’s legal ordeal makes a gripping but deeply disturbing story. Sound incredible? Read the full story, view the supporting documents and decide for yourself.
Joe Francis, the founder of Girls Gone Wild spent nearly a year in jail, not because he was convicted of a single crime, but because he was denied his 8th amendment right to bail after a group of vengeful Panama City, Florida officials’ trumped-up charges against him in an effort to try to destroy Joe Francis and his companies.
The story of how Joe Francis wound up in jail over a civil (for money) not criminal lawsuit, and why he spent nearly a year behind bars without being granted to his right to bail is troubling, because what happened to Joe Francis could happen to you. Click the “NEXT” arrow at the bottom of this page to read this gripping tale in it’s entirety.