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Posts Tagged ‘Ross Johnson’

Joe Francis: Tort Gone Wild

19francis.2.190.jpgGirls Gone Wild founder/sleaze monkey Joe Francis and his attorneys at Bernhoft Law have breathlessly declared “war” … on the law.

Francis says he was tricked into doing things he didn’t really want to do and now feels embarrassed, exposed and vulnerable (pay back’s a bitch, ain’t it?).

At a press conference in L.A. today Francis and his attorneys announced multiple law suits he’s filing/has filed: First, he is suing his former accountant, Michael Barrett for “setting him up,” as the New York Times reports:

Mr. Francis says that his internal accountant set him up, filing the 2002 and 2003 tax returns in question for Mantra Films and then blowing the whistle to the I.R.S. with the goal of reaping a bounty for turning in a tax cheat. On July 25, Mr. Francis filed a civil suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the accountant, Michael Barrett.

Francis is also suing the cops and other officials involved in his arrest and prosecution for child abuse in 2003.

Ross Johnson of L.A. Strategic (pictured over Francis’ shoulder here) alerted us to Joe’s Declaration of War — in the form of a press release:

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FBLA Exclusive: How Wesley Snipes Won /Legal Wizards Tell All


On February 1, Wesley Snipes was acquitted of felony conspiracy and tax fraud after a two week federal trial in Ocala, Florida. Snipes was found guilty of three misdemeanor counts of willfully failing to file a tax return. FBLA caught up with Snipes’ lead trial attorney Robert Bernhoft, the Milwaukee criminal defense attorney who’s moving on up to L.A.

FBLA: So you’re a Milwaukee lawyer who got a big victory for a celebrity client and now you’re opening an office in Malibu. Do you surf, or do you just really hate Milwaukee winters?

Bernhoft: I really just hate Milwaukee winters (it’s subzero there right now, and I’m relaxing at the Fairmont Miramar Bungalows…life could be worse). Laird Hamilton’s daughter has promised to teach me how to surf, though.

FBLA: You called Ocala, Florida, the venue where Wesley was tried, a “hotbed of Klan activity” in pre-trial motions. Do men still ride around with white sheets over their heads there, or was that just a product of a lawyer’s imagination?

Bernhoft There’s a lot of so-called “White Power” events there, put on by National Vanguard and StormFront, and Ocala does happen to be the North American headquarters of the KKK. And according to the Anti-Defamation League, Ocala is the per-capita capital of race-hatred incidents and events.

FBLA: David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter for the New York Times, had a meltdown when he got into your face at the press conference you had to discuss the jury verdicts. What was going through your mind when Johnston was running off at the mouth?

Bernhoft: “He’s off his meds.”

FBLA: The defense rested its case without calling any witnesses for Wesley. Is that because the government had not met its burden of proof on the felony conspiracy and fraud counts, or is it because nobody in Hollywood wanted to travel to Ocala and testify for Wesley?

Bernhoft: I’m sure that Ocala is not a destination of choice for most Hollywood celebrities other than John Travolta, but the fact is, a lot of Wesley’s friends and colleagues were ready, willing, and able to testify for him there. But when you’ve got the government beat without calling a single witness, you don’t waste the jury’s time with a Hollywood-style intermission.

FBLA: For two weeks before the verdict Wesley’s press rep at Sitrick and Co. (Ross Johnson) passed out your statement that Wesley would walk on the felony counts. He did indeed walk on the felony counts. Was it dumb luck, did Sitrick rig the jury, or are you a brilliant lawyer?

Bernhoft: I’m a brilliant lawyer.

FBLA: It was reported that spectators were crying during defense closing arguments. What did you say during the argument that would cause someone to bawl at a tax trial?

Bernhoft: We talked about how the Liberty Bell might have been cracked in Philadelphia, but could still be heard in Ocala. Some people still care about those old-fashioned rights — like being able to ask your government questions without being rewarded with a federal criminal indictment. And they should…it’s important stuff, particularly in this new American age of domestic security at any price.

FBLA: Besides facing a civil tax trial where the government is going to want Wesley to pay $30 million in back taxes and penalties, Wesley has lawsuits going with New Line Cinema and United Talent Agency. Does Wesley just like to fight with people, or is this all a big misunderstanding?

Bernhoft: Throughout his career, Wesley has stood up for himself and others against an entrenched power structure, and he’s been targeted for that. These attacks have been going on for some time, like the “forcible DNA extraction arrest warrant” issued from the New York Family Court at the instigation of prosecuting attorneys from LaPorte County, Indiana. Some of this stuff is absolutely surreal, even in a surreal world, and you have to step back and ask yourself, “What’s going on here?”

Wesley was vindicated in that matter, of course, but not without fighting against these powerful government entities in the federal courts for several years. As a wise person once said: “You only have the rights you’re willing to fight to defend.” Wesley’s had to fight to protect and defend his. (By the way, even the government’s latest tax numbers are between 10-12 million).

FBLA: You’ve done a lot of big cases where tax protesters have been acquitted. Is it a good idea not to file a tax return?

Bernhoft No, it’s not a good idea not to file a tax return, because the IRS doesn’t like that, and they’ll come hunting for you, both civilly and criminally. American tax policy is no longer a legal question, it’s a political one, and thoughtful Americans who don’t like the current Tax Police State regime should go political, and quickly, if they wish to create change.

FBLA: If Wesley Snipes and Willie Nelson opened an accounting firm, who would get the best celebrity clients?

Bernhoft: No disrespect to the legendary Willie Nelson, but hands down Wesley would attract the most interesting celebrity clients. Wesley’s a fascinating man, cultured and engaging, and he’s a magnet for creative, interesting, eclectic personalities.

FBLA: When you go to trial on a big case, do you have any rituals?

Bernhoft: Each individual trial team member has their own unique rituals, usually involving prayer to particular deities. Rumors of animal sacrifice, however, are greatly exaggerated.

Media Mavericks and Moguls: Ross Johnson

Friday lunch at Orso was surprisingly fruitful, big name-wise, with Mel Brooks holding court at a table full of cronies, Larry David in a black velor tracksuit, and tall, blond and Brit Bill Nighy looking dreamy. Perfect for FBLA’s new weekly feature, Lunch with Media Moguls and Mavericks.

Ross Johnson surprised a number of people when he joined PR powerhouse Sitrick and Co., after a long career in journalism. He’s enjoying himself greatly, he says. He raves about how honcho Mike Sitrick built his firm from the ground up, and claims Sitrick works a room like no one else on this coast or the other one.

Other insights:

In 1983, William Goldman said about show business–”nobody knows anything”. Today, thanks to Nikki Finke, everybody knows something.

Patric Verrone has become the Abraham Lincoln of the WGA. But remember, Lincoln got shot.

The big thing about the WGA strike is like Woodward and Bernstein. Just like they made journalists look cool–now TV writers look cool.

FBLA Goes to the Party: Captivity Premiere Party: Not All That Freaky


After Dark’s producer Courtney Solomon promised that the premiere party for his horror flick, Captivity, wouldn’t be the same old blah evening of red carpet, screening, sponsored cocktail and home by 11. Biggest difference? No screening and open bar.

Despite the presence of the Suicide Girls (who were certainly the most polite dommettes we’ve ever met–one lanky young thing in gaffer tape pasties and bondage boots squeaked “pardon me, please” as she edged through the crowd) the only risky act was breathing all the second hand smoke. Or talking to Luke Ford.


Joel Stein, Claire Hoffman and Dana Goodyear were pointed out to us, but it was too much trouble to fight through the crowd and shout at them. Let’s guess who gets a piece out of this first.

We observed Paul Cullum interviewing producer Solomon. Solomon sounds like Nathan Lane when he speaks, which is so unexpected in a torture/horror mogul. He explained that showing the film at the premiere party wouldn’t help it at the box office. The film was banned from the Regal chain, but the MPAA wouldn’t allow use of the word BANNED on the ads. You’d think they don’t want people to see the movie–they didn’t watch it, so why should anyone else?


Ross Johnson worked that space like a cowboy at roundup–Move ‘em on, head ‘em out–Rawhide! Bas Rutten obliged. Miss HorrorFest06, Black Betty, (Jessica Chisum) was a welcome addition to the red carpet, as were Ryan Starr and Rachel Leigh Cook.


We must confess that we were outside, chatting up John Lippman, while the big freak show was happening inside. If you’ve seen one guy hanging from meathooks, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Later, the on-site piercer freaked people out by announcing he was a Republican who’d voted for Nixon. Some things are just too disgusting, ya know?

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Wendy McCaw Hired Lawyer Praised by ACLU to Sue Journalist


Ross Johnson takes a hard look, a really hard look, at Wendy McCaw, the embattled and battling owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Here’s the nut:

From somebody who’s said she would have no role in editorial functions, McCaw’s story has morphed into a tale of a woman using some of her reported $2 billion fortune (some say that stash has shrunk) to threaten current and former employees for talking to other media, sue a Southern California journalism professor for defamation, threaten shopkeepers for posting window signs that challenge McCaw’s legal maneuvers, stage a mini-war against the Teamsters union trying to organize her news force–and threaten writers with legal action merely for trying to contact her or her posse.

She’s a busy, busy gal! Johnson shares the blame on McCaw’s cadre of lawyers and toadies (not always the same thing).

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