This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," August 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We know that you will recognize our next guest, Joe Francis. Joe always has something going on. He's the founder of "Girls Gone Wild" and just got out of jail.
But tonight Joe is already locked in a new legal fight, this time going to war with, among other, a federal judge. Joe Francis and his lawyer Bob Bernhoft join us live. Welcome to both of you.
Joe, you have yourself another war on your hands.
JOE FRANCIS, FOUNDER, "GIRLS GONE WILD": Well, I would not call it a war. And I am not declaring war on a judge here. This is not an attack also on the judiciary as a whole, because I have a tremendous respect for judges and the judicial process.
But this is one bad apple-and I have a friend who is a federal judge. This is one bad apple that's making them all look bad, and, quite frankly, my friend has expressed that they are embarrassed by what has happened here.
VAN SUSTEREN: Joe, for lack of better-I have gone to the papers. You in essence say the federal judge is crooked?
FRANCIS: Absolutely, 100 percent, Greta.
Greta, I was put in jail by Judge Richard Some(ph) for not settling a civil lawsuit with his ex-law partner. And he told me, and viewers of this show remember, settle or go to jail, settler and pay my ex-law partner millions of dollars, which we won't discuss the amounts, and then he put me in jail until I signed a settlement agreement.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, does the judge have any sort of immunity in these lawsuits?
BOB BERNHOFT, ATTORNEY FOR JOE FRANCIS: We are not suing the Judge, Greta. As you know, the judge enjoys a virtual absolute judicial immunity, so he is not a proper party to the suit.
The suit seeks to rescind or set aside the illegal settlement agreement that was procured in Panama City. And it is a remarkable, unprecedented president as far as we can tell in the history of the republic that a federal judge would order a man to prison indefinitely until he would settle a civil case.
This is a principle--Joe is a very larger-than-life personality, but this is the principle that's worth fighting for, and that is why Bernhoft law firm is in this case. This just cannot be allowed to stand.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, do you have in a transcript--I did not know if some of the conversations were in chambers or if they were done in court, but do you have any transcript where the federal judge has said I will put you in jail until you pay and settle the civil case?
FRANCIS: And they're all available now. If you go to meetjoefrancis.com, and obviously the Paser (ph) system has archived all of those transcripts as well.
It is very clear what happened here.
BERNHOFT: Greta, at one point the judge told Joe and his attorneys down there in Panama City, he said the only way you can avoid jail is to settle the case by the end of the day. Then he backed off on that and said, well, you have to make substantial offers.
Every American has a fundamental right to trial by jury. You cannot have judges coercing people to mediate by imprisoning them. It is the definition of duress.
VAN SUSTEREN: Joe, let me ask, if you settle this, the lawyers on the other side would make a lot of money probably, based on the numbers that were tossed around--
FRANCIS: Let me explain. Yes, it is his ex-law partner, but it was all a contingency arrangement.
Now, the judge had just left the law firm a year and a half b and the ex-law partner had form-shopped this case, meaning they filed and dismissed it three times in order for it to end up in front of his ex-law partner, and then rigged the whole thing out.
Greta, if this stands, if they let this settlement agreement, this coerced settlement agreement stand, this will single-handedly undermine the entire civil judicial system in this country.
BERNHOFT: Greta, that is not overly rhetorical. This really does cut away at the core of public perception of judicial integrity, that people can have confidence in our civil justice system.
VAN SUSTEREN: Which is why, Bob, and I am going to take a break and have both of you stand by, is why I asked if this under transcript, because if it is on the transcript, that makes things oftentimes quite certain one way or the other.
We will take a quick break. Both of you don't go away, because we have much more after the break.
Plus, tropical storm Fay strikes. It looked like Fay was through, but she is now roaring back. Fay has laid waste to parts of Florida, but this storm could reach her strongest power yet in just hours.
And she is moving. We are going to tell you where she is heading next.
VAN SUSTEREN: We continue now with "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis and his lawyer Bob Bernhoft. Joe, do you have any proof, or do you conclusively have evidence that it did not happen that the judge could get any money at your settlement?
BERNHOFT: There is no evidence at this point. The investigation is ongoing. Mr. Francis has engaged some very highly regarded attorneys in New York City that are going to file a judicial complaint against the judge.
But, really, the viewers need to understand as well, in addition to this recision suit, which will avoid this legal settlement agreement that was coerced by throwing Joe in jail--
FRANCIS: And you showed a picture of me signing that settlement agreement in my jail cell.
BERNHOFT: That's right. But Joe has also filed claims for over $300 million in damages in a federal civil rights suit in Florida.
So it is very important. Joe has to defend himself and protect these principles.
VAN SUSTEREN: And Joe, you are a very rich guy. You have access to a jet and the like. I understand that the jet was searched for cocaine?
FRANCIS: No, Greta, it is better than that. This whole thing started--remember, I sued these guys for violating my civil rights. I won a first amendment lawsuit, this was a first amendment stance. And these guys want and criminalized me.
And a few days later, they seized my jet from their runway. They sent out a press release saying a quantity of cocaine has been found aboard Mr. Francis's 22 passenger jet, took the plane, put me in jail, charged me of drug trafficking, sent that out on the wire. It was everywhere.
Two months later I won the plane back, and they admitted in court that they lied. And the judge said--
VAN SUSTEREN: Same judge?
FRANCIS: No. This was a state court judge in Panama City, her documents are on there. She said with reckless disregard for the truth with an intent to deceive the court, they absolutely made it up. There were no drugs whatsoever. There was nothing whatsoever!
They took my plane and made up something like that. It is crazy. The story, it never ends.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bob?
BERNHOFT: Yes, Greta.
FRANCIS: Another piece, just verify for me, because it has been a while and I haven't seen the records, but when Joe was originally charged with violating this underage girls having their picture taken, it turned out that they had lied, and they admitted later that they lied.
But Joe's lawyer wanted to see the video, and the prosecutor would not let them show the video despite the fact that it was "evidence," and yet showed it to a "Nightline" producer? Is that right or wrong?
FRANCIS: That's true.
BERNHOFT: That is absolutely correct.
VAN SUSTEREN: How is the prosecutor justifying not showing the lawyer but showing a TV person?
BERNHOFT: It is discovery violations, it is unconscionable, its unprofessional. You have a cabal of Bay County, Florida, Panama City government officials that are corrupt, corrupt law enforcement officers, and this will all be exposed.
Much of this has already been demonstrated in the record. Judge Costello threw all of this out because of the illegal search of the plane.
FRANCIS: This has been a criminal persecution of Joe Francis by the state county people, these Bay County officials, and, right now, it is my time to set the record straight.
VAN SUSTEREN: We have to go, but just one last word from you, Bob. This is filed in California?
BERNHOFT: That is correct. It is filed in L.A. superior court.
VAN SUSTEREN: We will check out the Web site. Fascinating legal issues. Joe, Bob, thank you.
FRANCIS: Thank you, Greta.
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