Meet Joe Francis. According to his Web site, Meetjoefrancis.com, he’s a “misunderstood” individual.
Whether you recognize his name or not, every college student is familiar with Francis’ work: He’s the creator and CEO of Girls Gone Wild. Many students, however, are not following his current journey through the legal system.
Francis was first arrested in Panama City Beach, Fla., in April of 2003. The 71 counts he was charged with included child pornography, drug trafficking and racketeering. Most of those counts were dropped when the judge stated that the evidence did not support the charges. Also, Francis’ lawyer contended that two underage girls who were filmed – and whose filming formed the basis of the child pornography charges – had lied about their ages.
The legal system left Francis alone until 2007, when on April 10 he was arrested for allegedly violating a contempt of court citation. The contempt citation arose from a civil lawsuit – the plaintiffs being seven women who were underage when they were filmed in Panama City.
Shortly thereafter, Francis was indicted by a Reno, Nev. grand jury on Apr. 11, 2007, for tax evasion. To add insult to injury, Francis was accused on Apr. 12 of bribing a police officer in the Panama City Jail, having illicit lorazepam and Lunesta in his cell, and bringing contraband into the facility. Francis is still incarcerated.
Francis’ situation could be classified as highly unusual. In fact, it seems that the “powers that be” are conspiring against him, as Francis alleges.
First of all, citizens are rarely jailed for civil disputes. Yes, judges have the right to place somebody in jail for contempt of court, but rarely do they impose such a lengthy imprisonment.
Second, it seems that Francis’ contempt of court charge lined the ducks up in a neat row for the fate he is currently experiencing. That the tax evasion, bribery and contraband charges were brought two days after his incarceration also seems a little too convenient.
Third, Francis is being held without bail. He has done numerous interviews with television and radio stations – most recently on the 97X Morning Show – stating that he has been denied his 8th Amendment right to bail. While his being held without bail is unusual, I must remind Francis that he has no explicit right to it. The 8th Amendment states that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The 8th Amendment does not guarantee any citizen the right to bail – only the right to reasonable bail. Unfortunately, what is considered reasonable is left to the judge’s discretion.
As a criminology major, I understand the need for justice to be distributed evenly, and in Francis’ case it seems he’s getting the short end of the legal stick. However, I am also a large believer in “you reap what you sow.” Francis has made his millions exploiting mostly intoxicated college-aged women. Now that he has become famous, there are some women who seek out Girls Gone Wild events and want that type of public notoriety.
Since many of the people being filmed are intoxicated, they should not be able to sign any form of legal release or waiver. A person cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse when they are intoxicated, so why should they be allowed to sign any form of contract?
Francis has also been sued for using footage of girls who did not consent to being filmed. Becky Lynn Gritzke, a Florida State University student attending Mardi Gras, was caught by Francis’ camera team exposing herself. She sued after the clip was used to advertise a Girls Gone Wild video.
Multiple allegations of harassment have been lobbed at Francis. In a column by Los Angeles Times staff writer Claire Hoffman on Aug. 6, 2006, she relates her day with Francis. She describes the embarrassment of being pushed up against a car as if being arrested by Francis, as well as his aggressive threats about what she was going to publish in her piece. These do not sound like the acts of a man who claims he has great respect for women since he grew up with his mother and three sisters.
Francis’ legal case has some issues. But to his statement that he’s misunderstood, I have to say: No, Joe, you’re not “misunderstood” – and I’m sorry, but I’m not losing any sleep because of your legal woes.
Joey Pegram is a senior majoring in criminology and international studies.