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August 1, 2014

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Verdict upheld against ‘Girls Gone Wild’ founder in spat with Steve Wynn

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Steven Wynn speaks to the media during the opening of the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Joe Francis, producer of the "Girls Gone Wild" franchise

Joe Francis, producer of the "Girls Gone Wild" franchise

LOS ANGELES — An appellate court on Monday upheld a $19 million judgment against "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis in a slander case filed over his claims that casino mogul Steve Wynn had threatened to kill him.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles found no basis to overturn the judgment or order a new trial, and the justices also left in place an injunction barring Francis from repeating the claims.

After a 2012 trial, a jury found that Francis' statements about threats were defamatory, and a judge ordered him not to repeat the statements. Francis and Wynn testified during the trial.

Francis said he was told Wynn had threatened to hit him in the head with a shovel and have him buried in the desert. Wynn denied making such threats and claimed the statements by Francis damaged his reputation and put his casino license at risk.

A jury initially ordered Francis to pay Wynn $40 million, but a judge later cut the amount by $21 million.

Francis appealed the verdict, arguing that he initially made the comments in a court proceeding over a gambling debt owed to Wynn and should not be held liable.

He argued that his comments to "Good Morning America" and to a TMZ reporter merely confirmed his description of the threats, but a three-justice panel of the appellate court disagreed.

Mitchell Langberg, an attorney for Wynn, applauded the ruling in a statement.

"We will continue to assist Mr. Wynn and Wynn Las Vegas as they vigorously pursue Francis to collect all of his debts to them, including this $19 million judgment," Langberg wrote.

Francis called the ruling ridiculous.

"We fully expect this to be overturned by the California Supreme Court expeditiously," Francis said.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, it should give pause to others who describe threats during court proceedings, he said.

Francis created the "Girls Gone Wild" video series but said he has had no affiliation with the company for two years.

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