Joe Francis' Legal Troubles Mount

Tod Hunter
LOS ANGELES — "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis is facing legal problems on both coasts.

Panama City, Fla., attorney Jean Downing has filed a federal lawsuit against Francis, claiming he is refusing to pay her for $77,000 worth of work she did defending Francis from a lawsuit brought by Brittany Pitt, who claimed Francis and his company Mantra Films had shot her while she was underage.

Downing said Francis has paid about $27,000 of $104,000 worth of work she and her staff put into the case, but he is refusing to pay the rest.

Francis has said that the two former Mantra executives who made the deal with Downing had no authority to do so.

Downing said she went to and tried mediation, but Francis wouldn't take part, and also claimed she tried arbitration and Francis failed to participate. She is pursuing the $77,000 plus court fees, attorney fees and other expenses.

In Los Angeles, a judge has approved the expansion of a lawsuit against Francis by an interior design firm owner who claims he was threatened by Francis for agreeing to cooperate in a tax evasion investigation against Francis.

The designer — Ralph T. Haenisch, owner of Los Angeles-based Trip Haenisch & Associates — originally filed suit against Francis on April 10 in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging breach of oral contract, claiming Francis refused to pay nearly $285,000 for furniture and other furnishing items for his Bel-Air home, which Francis intended to make a "showpiece to the world."

Ten days later, Haenisch added a claim for defamation, alleging that Francis defamed him in emails after Francis saw a posting about the lawsuit on a celebrity website.

Judge Coleman A. Swart granted a request by Haensich's lawyers to add a new cause of action: for intentional infliction of emotional distress. This claim alleges Francis sent intimidating e-mails after finding out that Haenisch could be called as a witness in a tax evasion case brought against him in 2007.

Francis' lawyers maintain in their court papers that the e-mails were not threatening and had nothing to do with Haenisch's agreement to cooperate with government officials.

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