LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Casino mogul Steve Wynn was awarded $20 million in punitive damages today in the trial of his defamation lawsuit against “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis, who alleged the Las Vegas hotelier wanted him killed and buried in the desert over a $2 million gambling debt.
The punitive damages are on top of $20 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded Wynn on Monday. The Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that Francis acted with malice, prompting today’s punitive phase.
Wynn’s attorney, Barry Langberg, told jurors today that another $20 million in damages would send a strong message to Francis, but Francis attorney Aaron Aftergood insisted no further punishment was needed.
Langberg also asked Judge Joanne O’Donnell to issue a permanent injunction barring Francis from repeating his claim about Wynn making a death threat. The judge took the request under submission.
Francis maintained that music producer Quincy Jones — a friend of both men — showed him emails from Wynn containing the alleged death threats. Jones testified Thursday that he was unaware of any verbal or written threats by Wynn against Francis.
Wynn contended that the first defamatory statement by Francis occurred April 12, 2010, in Los Angeles Superior Court during a hearing concerning a $2 million gambling debt Francis ran up at one of Wynn’s Las Vegas casinos. The second statement occurred outside the same courtroom, and both remarks were overheard by an Internet celebrity gossip reporter, according to the lawsuit.
Francis’ lawyers maintain the second statement was a re-publication of what was said in the courtroom and therefore not actionable.
The third and final remark occurred when Francis repeated the statement recently during a national morning show television interview, according to Wynn’s lawyers.
“He used the media to get it out there to who knows how many millions of people,” Langberg told reporters Monday after the compensatory damages were announced. “The jury heard the evidence. I mean, there wasn’t much to guess about.”
Francis, who was not in court when the jury’s verdict was announced Monday, posted a news story on his website in which he said, “I’m startled by the jury’s verdict because it’s totally unfounded, and the evidence does not support it.”
During the initial phase of trial, Langberg asked jurors to award his client $12 million in compensatory damages for emotional distress and damage to his reputation.
“There is no defense. He (Francis) made it up, he did it maliciously,” Langberg said.
Wynn maintained that such an accusation could negatively affect his Las Vegas business, especially in a state where gaming is heavily regulated.
But Aftergood said Langberg showed no evidence during the weeklong trial that Wynn suffered any damages. In fact, Wynn’s business is going well in “global commerce,” Aftergood said.
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