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Steve Wynn, Joe Francis lawsuit punitive-damages phase: $20 million added, totaling $40 million

September 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The second phase of the trial in the defamation suit against "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis began Tuesday, a day after a jury awarded casino mogul Steve Wynn $20 million in compensatory damages.

The jury recommended $20 million in punitive damages against Francis Tuesday afternoon, on top of the previously awarded $20 million in compensatory damages, totaling $40 million Francis is required to pay Wynn. Wynn has said after paying his attorney fees, he would donate the remainder to charity.

The lawsuit stems from claims Francis made about Wynn, saying Wynn was going to have Francis killed and "bury him in the desert" over a $2 million gambling debt. Wynn always denied making the statements and maintains his reputation was damaged as a result of Francis' claims.

On Tuesday, for the first claim the jury awarded punitive damages in the amount of $4 million to Wynn. The second claim was worth $5 million, and the third claim was $11 million.

According to the jury, composed of nine men and three women, Francis acted with malice, causing the case to move into its second phase. Part of what may have determined that is Francis' net worth, which is estimated at about $150 million. It was possible Francis could have ended up paying another $60 million in punitive damages.

Wynn's attorneys commented on the jury's decision following the announcement Monday. "Steve Wynn didn't know who Joe Francis was, had never met him, and didn't even know he owed $2 million until he started making these comments," said attorney Barry Langberg.

Famed music producer Quincy Jones was a star witness in the trial. Francis alleged it was Jones who told him Wynn was dangerous. But when Jones took the stand he denied giving such warnings.

Prior to the jury's meeting Tuesday, Wynn's attorney presented the judge with a list of potential witnesses, including a bookkeeper who kept track of the money going in and out of Francis' bank accounts.

That attorney took the stand Tuesday. He was tasked to protect all of his Francis' assets , including his "Girls Gone Wild" enterprise.

After a few hours of deliberation on Monday, the jury found Francis knowingly made false claims of death threats.

Out of the $20 million Francis has been ordered to pay on Monday, $11 million resulted from an interview Francis did with "Good Morning America" where he reiterated the threats. The interview was done as the trial was in progress.

Francis has promised to appeal the ruling. He said the judge made a mistake by adding his "Good Morning America" appearance to the case.

"I'm startled by the jury's verdict because it's totally unfounded and the evidence does not support it," Francis said.

Wynn is the CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd. and designed Las Vegas casinos such as The Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore.

Wynn released a statement after Tuesday's verdict, saying in part: "Joe Francis represents a new kind of criminal type: the digital assassin. He takes advantage of the protection afforded by the internet to issue intentionally destructive charges against someone's reputation, knowing full well that in the age of the internet those statements will live forever. ...

"Thank God for the justice system that finally sent a message: if you think you're taking a cheap shot, it may be a lot more expensive than you had imagined. Therefore, think before you post; think before you speak; hesitate before you start to destroy someone's character. There may be a day of reckoning."

Francis released a statement Tuesday afternoon that read in part: "Steve Wynn has been called the Figure head of the Genovese crime family by a government agency. The alleged 'defamation' was a result of my request in a courtroom for a restraining order against Steve Wynn. I made this request because I was afraid for my life. Numerous people, not just Quincy Jones, told me that Steve Wynn was threatening to kill me.

"Strictly from a legal standpoint, I believe the jury should have found in my favor for numerous reasons. Besides THE FACT THAT I AM THE ONLY ONE TELLING THE TRUTH, after the alleged 'defamation' of Steve Wynn his net worth has gone up 500-million-dollars during the worst economy in history. How could Steve Wynn be financially damaged by the alleged defamatory statements? He also failed to show exactly how he was financially damaged to the jury to win this case. Also, statements that are made in a courtroom in this context are considered "privileged", meaning without the fear of being sued. No one would seek court protection if they had to fear for their life while at the same time fear getting sued for millions of dollars by a bully like Steve Wynn."

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