GGW Asks for Charges to Be Dropped

Attorneys for the producer of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos asked Bay County Circuit Judge DeeDe Costello Friday to drop charges against Joseph Francis, claiming police misconduct has tainted the case.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office targeted "Girls Gone Wild" in retaliation for a federal lawsuit Francis filed against local officials before his April 2003 arrest, defense attorney Larry Simpson wrote in the motion filed in state circuit court.

"The BCSO's plan was a simple one - follow GGW everywhere they went, monitor their activities, locate where they were staying and generally harass GGW until law enforcement could come up with some arguable violation of law that would justify the arrest of Joe Francis and the seizure of everything in the possession of GGW," Simpson wrote. "Thus, the ultimate goal was to put GGW out of business."

Also, no evidence supports the charges after Circuit Judge Dedee Costello in July suppressed hundreds of hours of videotape seized in 2003 from Francis' condominiums and private jet, Simpson wrote.

Francis, 33, was charged with more than 40 criminal offenses. His arrest came after two 17-year-old girls said a "Girls Gone Wild" photographer videotaped them in sexual situations in a Panama City Beach motel room on March 31, 2003.

Authorities say Francis targeted underage girls for his videos. He could face decades in prison if convicted.

A hearing to address the defense's motion to dismiss is scheduled Nov. 22. Francis' case had been set for trial this year.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak lifted a restriction on taking witness testimony in a federal civil lawsuit against Francis, filed by the girls in the criminal case shortly after his arrest.

Francis' attorney in that lawsuit, Michael Patrick Dickey, had wanted depositions postponed until the spring to allow time for the state criminal case to be resolved. Trial in the federal case is scheduled for July 2007.