Former Bakersfield priest Craig Harrison has been ordered to pay $219,800 in attorneys fees to a man he unsuccessfully accused of defaming him — and the amount he ultimately must pay could rise depending on the outcome of a hearing later this month in a parallel court case.
Kern County Superior Judge J. Eric Bradshaw ruled earlier this month the former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church owes the sum after a Fresno appellate court in July dismissed the defamation suit against Stephen Brady, president and founder of Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., who in 2019 publicly recounted claims Harrison acted inappropriately with minors.
The amount could have been substantially more: Bradshaw denied Brady’s request for fees relating to certain research and “media engagements” totaling 48 hours. The judge also reduced the hourly charges Brady could recover after deciding they did not reflect local rates, limiting them to between $297.50 and $573.50 per hour.
The Brady case was one of two Harrison lost because the appellate court ruled the defendants had raised legitimate criticism protected by California’s law against what are called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP cases.
Brady said by phone Monday he was relieved the case is over so he can return his focus to other work. He noted the lawsuit took much time and presented a heavy financial burden for his small corporation.
Paul M. Jonna, Brady’s Rancho Santa Fe attorney, said by email, “Hopefully this result will serve as a clear lesson to Harrison and others who seek to use the legal system to improperly intimidate people.”
Harrison attorney Craig A. Edmonston said Monday he strongly disagreed with the appellate court’s finding Brady’s statements were privileged.
“In California, the courts keep narrowing the rights of victims of defamation,” he said. “The effect of this appellate court ruling is that would-be defamers have a license to lie with impunity, meaning no accountability.”
Harrison was suspended from his position at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in April 2019 after alleged victims accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. He resigned in February 2021. He has denied ever acting in a sexually inappropriate manner.
In 2019, Brady hosted a news conference in Bakersfield relating third-party findings, delivered 15 years earlier to the district attorney of Merced County, that Harrison examined boys’ testicles daily looking for signs of drug use. Brady also brought up assertions that, while serving as a pastor of a church in Firebaugh, the then-priest had sex with two high school students.
Harrison also filed a defamation lawsuit against the Roman Catholic bishop of Fresno and a former spokeswoman for the local diocese. That case was settled privately in June.
The monsignor additionally sued his former mentee, Ryan Gilligan, after he accused Harrison of behaving inappropriately with children and sexually abusing at least one minor.
That case, decided in Gilligan’s favor on appeal in July, is headed for a hearing March 24 in Ridgecrest. Edmonston said the matter is “basically a carbon copy very similar to the Brady motion.”