Joe Francis Hit With $20M in Punitive Damages in Steve Wynn Slander Case

The jury had already awarded Steve Wynn $20 million in the case.

ByABC News
September 11, 2012, 3:10 AM

Sept. 11, 2012— -- A Los Angeles jury that awarded $20 million to billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn in his slander suit against "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis this evening doubled the award with another $20 million in punitive damages.

The four-day trial came to an end on Monday, but neither Wynn nor Francis was in court when the verdict was read. On Friday, Wynn's attorney had asked the jury to award his client $12 million plus punitive damages.

The trial was centered on Francis' claim that Wynn had threatened his life in an email about a gambling debt, which was allegedly seen by legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Wynn sued Francis, saying that claim was false and that the 39-year-old was ruining his reputation.

Francis described the alleged emails in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America" in August.

"In all caps, and then exclamation points -- like a crazy person's email – [Wynn wrote], 'I'm going to hit to him in the back of the head with a shovel and have him buried in the middle of the desert,'" Francis said. "I was afraid for my life. He made it very clear that he wanted to kill me."

That story unraveled in court when Jones, the key witness in the case, testified that he never saw an email from Wynn threatening to kill Francis.

In court, Francis admitted that he never actually saw the emails, saying he only got a glimpse of the wording when Jones flashed a stack of emails in front of him.

Jurors sided with Wynn, awarding him $20 million in damages. The jury awarded Wynn $11 million of that, basing its decision on the interview Francis gave to "GMA."

Francis said he expects the verdict to be overturned on appeal because of judicial error.

"I'm startled by the jury's verdict because it's totally unfounded and the evidence does not support it," Francis told The Associated Press 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 "GMA" after the trial had started.

Francis is reportedly worth $150 million, and the jury could still decide to hit him with punitive damages. That could be an additional $60 million, costing Francis more than half his net worth. That portion of the trial is expected to begin today.

Wynn's attorney, Barry Langberg, said after the verdict was read the jury clearly saw the harm in Francis' remarks.

"The evidence was clear that there was falsity, and there was damage," Langberg said.

Wynn, 70, who is worth an estimated $2.5 billion, said he'll take the money from Francis, but he won't keep it.

"Any money that I get from this case is gonna go to the abused women charity here and wounded warriors," said Wynn.

The court battle between the two moguls began in 2009, when Francis refused to pay a $2 million debt owed to one of Wynn's casinos.

After Francis publicly accused Wynn of deceptive practices at his casinos, Wynn sued him for defamation. A Nevada judge ruled in favor of Wynn in February and ordered Francis to pay $7.5 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.