BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A Superior Court judge ruled that Monsignor Craig Harrison is not a public figure and the priest may move forward with a defamation lawsuit filed over sexual misconduct accusations made against him by alleged victims.
The court found that there was evidence that the Roman Catholic Faithful and its founder, Stephen Brady, made "defamatory statements" against Harrison, according to court documents.
Harrison's attorneys said in a press release that they were not surprised by the court's ruling based on the "reckless and salacious nature of the statements made by Brady and RCF."
Brady's attorney said they believe the ruling is incorrect, and released the following statement:
In denying my clients’ Anti-SLAPP motion, the Court ruled that various legal protections, including the right to neutrally report the news, do not bar Msgr. Harrison’s defamation claim. We believe the ruling is incorrect and we are evaluating whether to appeal. If the case progresses, the core issue – while Harrison remains under investigation by the Firebaugh Police Department and Diocese of Fresno, and suspended from ministry – will be whether in fact Harrison engaged in sexual abuse of minors. We continue to believe that this is a meritless case and an attack on protected speech, and that our clients will ultimately prevail.
Harrison has also filed a second lawsuit of similar nature over sexual misconduct accusations made against him by alleged victims. In the second lawsuit, Monsignor Harrison claimed that the slander against him has caused "permanent damage and injury to his good name," and loss of income, and medical bills.
A trial setting conference hearing is set for February 3 at 8:30 a.m., according to court records.