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Court rejects defamation lawsuits from ex Catholic priest

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Father Craig Harrison

Father Craig Harrison

Two defamation lawsuits filed by former Catholic priest Craig Harrison against a critic and accuser have been dismissed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal as being protected speech.

Harrison filed legal action against Stephen Brady and his organization Roman Catholic Faithful, and one of Harrison’s first public accusers Ryan Gilligan.

The former priest served in multiple parishes within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, including parishes in Merced, Firebaugh, and Bakersfield.

Harrison alleged he was irreparably harmed by the accusations of sexual misconduct from Gilligan and Brady, works to uncover evidence of alleged sexual misbehavior by Catholic priests.

Gilligan, who at one time wanted to be a priest, alleges Harrison made sexual advances towards him, acted inappropriately with children and sexually abused at least one minor child, according to the appeal court’s opinion.

In 2019 and 2020, lawyers representing Gilligan and Brady tried to quash the defamation lawsuit by arguing that it fell under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute that was created to to throw out frivolous lawsuits.

But the lower court disagreed and dismissed the Anti-SLAPP claims.

An appeal was filed and the Fifth District Court of Appeal on July 22 reversed the lower courts action, dismissing the defamation lawsuits.

The court also ordered that the defendants’ attorneys’ fees must be paid by Harrison.

“We are pleased with the two rulings issued by the Fifth District Court of Appeals finding that Craig Harrison’s separate lawsuits against our clients should both be dismissed under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute,” said attorney Paul Jonna, in a statement.

“The Court of Appeals correctly found that our clients had engaged in protected speech that could not form the basis of a defamation claim.”

Jonna and Jeffrey M. Trissell of LiMandri & Jonna LLP in Rancho Santa Fe represented Gilligan and Brady.

Harrison’s attorney Craig Edmonston of Bakersfield could not be reached for comment.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.





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