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Law Firm Hits Back at 'Girls Gone Wild' Client in Court FilingThe legal divorce between Joe Francis of "Girls Gone Wild" fame and his soon-to-be-former lawyers from The Bernhoft Law Firm might soon be appropriately nicknamed Lawyers Gone Wild. Faced with a March trial on federal tax evasion charges, Francis all but accused The Bernhoft Firm's two main partners of malpractice. But in a three-page declaration filed on Thursday before a district court judge in Los Angeles, one of the partners hit back at the client he can't seem to get rid of fast enough.
The American Lawyer2009-01-30 12:00:00 AM
The legal divorce between Joe Francis of "Girls Gone Wild" fame and his soon-to-be-former lawyers from The Bernhoft Law Firm continues to remind us of a late-night infomercial.
The Am Law Daily covered Francis' latest quest for new counsel earlier this week, noting that the mail-order millionaire wasn't a stranger to substitution of counsel orders.
Faced with a March trial on federal tax evasion charges, Francis all but accused The Bernhoft Firm's two main partners -- Robert Bernhoft and Robert Barnes -- of malpractice.
Barnes states that his firm and Francis reached an "irreconcilable conflict" in mid-November that was "reposed within the attorney-client privilege." As a result of the undisclosed conflict, the firm chose to terminate its legal relationship with Francis.
Francis apparently wasn't happy with the decision.
Bernhoft and Barnes were profiled in Portfolio magazine that same month with a focus on their desire to expand out of their Milwaukee base into the Los Angeles market and to capitalize on their successful defense of action star Wesley Snipes in his federal tax trial several months earlier.
According to Barnes' declaration, when told the firm would be withdrawing from the case, Francis responded in an e-mail: "As for a practice in LA. It is highly unlikely if you piss me off. I KNOW EVERYONE AND THEY WILL DO WHAT I SAY!"
Barnes states that his firm tried to keep the matter confidential but Francis' statements to the press about "anticipated litigation between himself and current counsel concerning counsel's refusal to perform certain acts arising from this matter" made that impossible.
While Barnes continues to keep confidential the initial conflict between his firm and Francis as well as his firm's purported refusal to "perform certain acts" for Francis, he notes in his declaration that the threat of litigation created another conflict preventing further representation.
Barnes also states that he's had no direct contact with Francis since early December, adding that his quasi-client has "also fired all licensed legal counsel working for his corporation, including general counsel, an associate attorney, a longstanding paralegal with the corporation, and outside corporate counsel in civil litigation."
Two firms -- Jones Day and Munger, Tolles & Olson -- have previously been reported as considering taking on Francis' case. But Jones Day told The Am Law Daily on Tuesday that it wouldn't take the matter; Munger claimed it had yet to make a decision.
Therefore, as Barnes' declaration states, Francis is proceeding in the case in propria persona, or as his own counsel.
Barnes asks the court in his declaration to inform Francis to proceed as such "if he has not procured substitute counsel by February 3, 2009 due to the irreconcilable conflict of interest which precludes this counsel from proceeding further as Mr. Francis' counsel in this matter."
For those lawyers left in Los Angeles who haven't yet been retained by Francis -- who did not immediately return a call from The Am Law Daily seeking comment -- it appears that he's available.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.