August 30, 2012 4:49am PT by Matthew Belloni
Steve Wynn Vs. Joe Francis Defamation Trial Set to Begin
Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in one of the odder defamation trials of the year in Los Angles Superior Court. Casino mogul Steve Wynn is accusing Girls Gone Wild soft-core porn impresario Joe Francis of slander for saying that Wynn wanted to kill him and bury him in the desert.
The legal battle began in 2009 when Francis refused to pay a $2 million debt from a wild weekend of gambling at Wynn’s Las Vegas casino. Wynn obtained a civil judgment against Francis, and during a debtor's examination in a California courtroom, Francis allegedly lept to his feet and announced:
"Wynn threatened to kill me. He said he would hit me in the back of the head with a shovel and bury me in a hole in the desert."
Francis then repeated the statement outside the courtroom to TMZ reporter Michael Amormino, who was covering the hearing. Amormino was "taken aback" by Francis' accusations, according to his testimony in the case, and he filed a story that was later published on the celebrity news site.
Wynn then sued claiming that Francis' allegations could negatively impact his business, espcially since the gaming industry is so heavily regulated.
"Steve is not litigious," Wynn's lead attorney Barry Langberg tells THR. "He wouldn’t care what Joe Francis said about him except that when the gaming commission sees that Joe is saying 'Steve tried to kill me,' the gaming commission can’t ignore that."
This isn't the first time Wynn and Francis have met in court. The LA trial comes in the wake of a February ruling in favor of Wynn in a separate case in Nevada where Wynn sued Francis for claiming Wynn employs deceptive practices at his casinos. A Nevada judge ruled in favor of Wynn and ordered Francis to pay $7.5 million.
In another odd twist in the LA case, Francis is claiming that music mogul Quincy Jones, a neighbor of his, showed him an email suggesting Wynn wanted Francis dead. But Jones, who was expected to testify during the trial, was excused earlier this week due to a medical condition. Wynn's lawyers claim that no such email exists.
Francis, who was once named Douchebag of the Decade by Gawker, is no stranger to litigation. We've documented his exploits in this space several times. He's repped in this case by lead lawyer Aaron Aftergood.
The Wynn trial is expected to take about seven days in the courtroom of Superior Court judge Joanne O'Connell. Wynn and Francis are expected to testify.