LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury on Monday awarded casino mogul Steve Wynn $20 million in his slander case against "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis, who claimed the creator of some of Las Vegas' most upscale resorts threatened to kill him over a gambling debt.
Witnesses disputed Francis' claims during a four-day trial, including Grammy winning record producer Quincy Jones, who Francis said told him about Wynn's threats and showed him a stack of emails that contained them.
Wynn vehemently denied that.
In siding with Wynn, the jury determined that there was clear and convincing evidence that Francis slandered the casino mogul and knew his allegations were false when he made them. Francis had claimed Wynn threatened to hit him over the head with a shovel and have him buried in the desert.
Neither Wynn nor Francis was present in court Monday morning when the verdict was read.
Wynn's attorney on Friday had asked the panel to award the billionaire $12 million plus punitive damages to send a message that false statements that travel far in the Internet age will not be tolerated. A second phase of the trial to decide punitive damages will begin on Tuesday.
Wynn's attorney, Barry Langberg, said after the verdict was read that the jury clearly saw the harm in Francis' remarks.
"The evidence was clear that there was falsity and there was damage," Langberg said.
Francis said he expects the verdict to be overturned on appeal due to judicial error.
"I'm startled by the jury's verdict because it's totally unfounded and the evidence does not support it," Francis said in a phone interview.
He said the judge erred by allowing Wynn's attorneys to allow jurors to consider a new claim of slander based on an interview Francis did with "Good Morning America" after the trial started. The panel awarded Wynn $11 million in damages on that claim alone.
"California law is very clear. You can't add a cause of action at the end of trial about something that had nothing to do with the trial," Francis said. "Therefore we are 100 percent confident this jury verdict will be reversed on appeal."