Updated at: 11/12/2012 7:05 PM
By ANTHONY McCARTNEY
(AP) LOS ANGELES - A judge has cut by more than half the $40 million jury verdict that casino mogul Steve Wynn was recently awarded against "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell issued the ruling Friday, reducing the award by $21 million. Her ruling eliminates $20 million in punitive damages the jury granted Wynn and $1 million they said he deserved because of comments Francis made on "Good Morning America."
The ruling only affects damages awarded in the case and preserves the jury’s determination that Francis defamed Wynn on three separate occasions, including on ABC’s national morning show.
Francis vowed to appeal the remainder of the verdict.
"Judge O’Donnell committed a judicial error by allowing this case to even proceed to a trial, and she knows it," Francis said. "This is only the first step of her back peddling and unwinding her illegal actions in order to try to keep her job as a judge."
Francis’ lawyers also have argued the statements on "Good Morning America" were not part of the initial case and shouldn’t be included in the judgment.
The trial, which ended in September, centered on Francis’ repeated claims that 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 they damaged his reputation and put his casino license at risk.
Francis testified he heard about the claims from Grammy-winner Quincy Jones, who told the jury that no such statements were made.
Wynn’s attorney Mitchell Langberg said the casino executive was not disappointed by the ruling. "Steve Wynn is very happy with a $19 million compensatory damages award," he said.
Langberg said the ruling upheld the jury’s determination that Francis made untrue statements about Wynn, confirming "what the case was about."
O’Donnell’s ruling states that the jury had no evidence to support awarding punitive damages in the case. "The jury’s punitive damage award was speculative and clearly the result of the jury’s dislike of the defendant and/or his businesses," the judge wrote.
Wynn is the CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd. and designed Las Vegas casinos such as The Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore. After the trial, Wynn called Francis a "digital assassin" and said he hoped the large verdict would discourage others from taking what he described as cheap shots.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)