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A federal judge has allowed lawyers at Munger, Tolles & Olson to withdraw as counsel to Joe Francis, founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” franchise. The defense team, the latest in a line of attorneys who have come and gone in his case, cited unspecified “conflicts of interest that have arisen.” The move came as Francis faces possible criminal contempt charges for violating a court protective order. Federal prosecutors moved on May 21 asking that Francis be held in criminal contempt for violating a protective order. Specifically, they said that he disclosed sealed discovery documents in an e-mail to an employee of a Girls Gone Wild creditor, referred to in court papers as L.N. “In this case, based on the evidence obtained, the government seeks a sentence that includes either incarceration or a monetary penalty, but recommends that any resulting sentence of incarceration be less than six months,” the government wrote. A hearing on the motion was scheduled for June 21. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles granted Munger Tolles’ motion to withdraw on Tuesday. The team representing Francis included Brad Brian, Gregory Phillips, Greg Weingart, Luis Li and Michael Doyen — all partners in the Los Angeles main office — and Susan Nash, of counsel in Los Angeles. Nash, whose declaration was attached to the withdrawal motion, declined to comment. Francis retained Munger Tolles last year, just before his scheduled trial on two felony counts of tax evasion. Other attorneys who have had a hand in his defense include Jan Handzlik, a former partner in the Los Angeles office of Washington’s Howrey who is now at Greenberg Traurig; Janet Levine and John Vandevelde, both partners in the Los Angeles office of Washington’s Crowell & Moring; and Robert Barnes and Robert Bernhoft of The Bernhoft Law Firm, a Milwaukee-based tax boutique that previously defended actor Wesley Snipes against tax charges. Prosecutors alleged that Francis claimed more than $20 million in false deductions on his 2002 and 2003 corporate tax returns. He faced up to 10 years in prison. Just before trial, Otero found that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense thousands of e-mails, some of which raised credibility issues for one of the government’s key witnesses, Michael Barrett, Francis’ former accountant. Under a deal reached last fall, Francis pleaded guilty to two counts of mailing a false tax return and one count of bribing jail guards. He was sentenced to 10 months’ time served, placed on supervised release and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $250,000 in back taxes to the IRS. Nash wrote that Munger Tolles had notified Francis that its representation would cease once the judge signed off on a modified court protective order in December 2009 and, in recent weeks, “subsequently confirmed to Mr. Francis that its representation had terminated.” According to the government’s motion, L.N. informed prosecutors on May 12 that Francis had sent her an e-mail addressing a fee dispute he was having with her company. She said that Francis was aware that he was not supposed to give her the information; under the protective order, Francis is prohibited from disclosing such materials to anyone not involved in the case. The information included a witness’s name and home address, according to a declaration by Caryn Finley, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s tax division in Washington, who signed a declaration attached to the government’s motion. Finley declined to comment and referred a call to department spokesman Charles Miller, who did not return a call for comment. A call to Holly Noel, a spokeswoman for Francis’s production company, Mantra Films Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif., was not returned.

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