Joe Francis Facing Yet Another Lawsuit

Q Boyer
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Joe Francis, founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” video series, is facing another lawsuit connected to the production of the hit video series, according to media reports issued Monday.

Brittany Pitts of Columbus, Ga., filed the lawsuit July 12 in U.S. District Court in Panama City, Fla. Pitts was in Panama City during spring break in 2002 when she was approached by Francis and allegedly coerced into exposing herself for the camera, according to the suit.

Pitts did not provide consent to Mantra to use her image, and was 16 years old at the time that the filming took place, the suit says.

According to attorney Mark Castro, who is representing Pitts in the lawsuit, Pitts thought that the video footage shot of her was for the personal use of two Girls Gone Wild agents, and was not intended for distribution. Pitts reportedly did not learn that she was prominently featured in a Girls Gone Wild video until her ex-fiance was told of the tape in December of 2006.

“She’s very concerned that her son may find out someday,” Casto said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s pretty dramatic to learn something you did as a 16-year-old for five seconds can come back to haunt you.”

Pitts, who is now 21, is seeking punitive and compensatory damages for the use of her image. Castro said he would also like the court to issue an order requiring Francis and his companies, MRA Holding and Mantra Films to pull copies of the video — “Girls Gone Wild: Best of Ultimate Spring Break Volume 2” — from store shelves.

“They put her on the cover and they used her to promote and advertise their product,” Casto said. “They’ve used her on the Internet. We have reason to believe they’ve used her on billboards. We know she’s been on TV, on the late-night infomercials.”

According to Casto, Pitts never signed a model release or other form of waiver permitting the company to use her image, and Girls Gone Wild never verified her age. As she was a minor at the time, Casto observed that Pitts could not have entered into a legally binding contract with the company to use her partially nude image, anyway.

Michael Burke, an attorney for Mantra and Francis, told XBIZ that he is “aware of the case,” and that Francis and Mantra “plan to defend against all the allegations, just as they have for the last eight years.”

Burke said that no case like Pitts’ that has gone to a jury has resulted in a ruling that favored the plaintiff.

“We anticipate the same successful conclusion in this case,” Burke said.

The lawsuit filed by Pitts is just the latest in a long string of legal troubles for Francis, who is currently being held in a Nevada jail on federal tax evasion charges.

In addition to the tax evasion charges, Francis faces criminal sexual battery charges in Los Angeles, a misdemeanor sexual battery charge in Florida, and at least one other civil suit based on allegations that are very similar to those in the Pitts case.

Last year, Francis and Mantra pleaded guilty to 10 counts of failing to comply with federal record-keeping statutes, earning the company and Francis a combined fine of more than $2 million dollars, but no jail time.

Although he conceded that there is an “aura of piling on” with respect to Francis’ legal troubles, Burke said that Mantra and Francis are both far from overwhelmed.

“There is this notion that Mr. Francis is incapacitated and unable to respond,” Burke said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We will vigorously respond to these allegations.”