A Kern County judge has struck down a key defense in a defamation lawsuit against a man who conducted a news conference to publicize allegations Rev. Monsignor Craig Harrison engaged in inappropriate conduct in the early 2000's.
The ruling, made by Judge Eric Bradshaw on Nov. 25, prevents the defense from throwing out the lawsuit and enables a civil trial.
The legal team for Harrison characterized the ruling in a news release issued Monday as a refutation of the allegations of sexual misconduct aimed at the priest while Stephen Brady’s lawyer said he believed the ruling was incorrect.
“It’s a significant ruling in the sense that it’s incorrect, and the case is meritless and should have been dismissed, but what are we left with now? We’re left with a civil case on the question of if Harrison is a sexual abuser,” Brady’s attorney, Paul M. Jonna, said.
To thwart Harrison’s lawsuit, Brady’s defense had filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which are typically used by defendants who have been sued by wealthy entities using the court system to intimidate or silence would-be witnesses or reporters.
The judge, however, refuted the claims brought forward in the motion, saying some evidence existed that Brady had made defamatory statements.
“We think the motion never should have been filed and caused a lot of unnecessary work,” one of Harrison’s attorneys, Craig A. Edmonston, said. “So we feel like we’re well on the way to clearing Monsignor Craig Harrison’s name.”
In August, Harrison filed a slander lawsuit against Brady, president and founder of the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., claiming Brady shared and published defamatory statements during a May news conference at a Holiday Inn in Bakersfield.
During the conference, Brady said he was in the process of going through his old files in an attempt to get to the bottom of the allegations against Harrison, some of which had already been made public at that point. He distributed copies of a letter from 2004 that was sent from a man who identified himself as a former FBI investigator to the Merced County District Attorney. The letter alleged Harrison ran a home for troubled boys in which he would examine the boys’ private parts every morning to check for drug use.
Other allegations were also brought up, including an email from an alleged victim of Harrison.
Harrison has denied all allegations of sexual impropriety. He has been suspended by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno while it conducts an investigation.
Following the court’s action on this civil suit, depositions on both sides can go forward. A conference to set a trial date is scheduled to take place Feb. 3.