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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Girls Gone Wild" Founder Seeks New Counsel in Tax Evasion Case

Francis Am Law Daily reports that Joe Francis, founder of the Girls Gone Wild video series, has changed tax lawyers yet again in his tax evasion case:

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Howrey. San Francisco litigation boutique Sideman & Bancroft. And now, the Daily Journal in Los Angeles reports ... that Munger, Tolles & Olson may be in line to replace Francis's current counsel at The Bernhoft Law Firm, who the mail-order video peddler is slamming as "swindlers" as they exit from a federal tax case slated for trial in March. ...

Francis [hired] The Bernhoft Firm, whose Milwaukee-based partners Robert Bernhoft and Robert Barnes were profiled in Portfolio magazine last November, with a special focus on their push to build up their celebrity client list after getting action film star Wesley Snipes acquitted on felony tax charges in February 2008. But the honeymoon for Bernhoft, Barnes, and Francis didn't last long. ...

Francis lashed out at his former lawyers, who filed a motion to withdraw from the tax case in mid-December. "The only reason they wanted me [as a client] was to mooch off me and open up an L.A. office," Francis told the Daily Journal. "The Bernhofts are the Paris Hilton of lawyers -- just to be famous, not to do anything." ...

Bernhoft and Barnes, who were not immediately available for comment, have slammed the Daily Journal story as a "defamatory hit job." ...

Also not in the game: Jones Day. ...  Jones Day litigation partner Brian O'Neill confirmed that the firm has chosen not to represent Francis, but declined to elaborate. (As an aside, O'Neill also praised Bernhoft, saying that a fellow Jones Day partner saw Bernhoft speak at a criminal law conference in Aspen, Colo., several weeks ago, noting that he had an "impressive" knowledge of tax law.)

Francis also approached Howrey's Handzlik about representing him in the tax case.

And while the Daily Journal reported that Munger Tolles litigation partners Brad Brian and Luis Li are poised to take over the tax case, Brian denied as much when contacted by The Am Law Daily on Tuesday afternoon. The firm has not yet made a decision on whether it will represent Francis, Brian says. Should a new counsel appointment be made, Francis is seeking to have his trial postponed until the fall--ostensibly to give his new lawyers more time to prepare.

Prior TaxProf Blog posts:

Update: The Daily Journal has issued this clarification:

A story published Jan. 26, "Law Firm, Celebrity Client May Part Ways: Spotlight On Bernhoft Could Dim as 'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Seeks New Counsel," may have inadvertently created the impression Joe Francis was firing his lawyers at the Bernhoft Law Firm, by saying the firm was "about to be tossed on its ear." In fact, as was reported in the same story, itwas the Bernhoft firm that first sought judicial permission in a Nov. 28 motion to withdraw as Francis' counsel. The Daily Journal regrets any misperception this caused.

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Comments

You can pay your attorneys with video tapes for just so long.

Posted by: Woody | Jan 30, 2009 10:36:07 AM