Victory for defendant in defamation case by disgraced former priest Craig Harrision
(For Immediate Release July 26, 2022)
A Fresno appellate court has ordered the dismissal of the last two of three defamation cases filed by former Bakersfield priest Craig Harrison to defend himself against accusations of sexual impropriety.
In two separate but related rulings dated Friday, California's Fifth District Court of Appeals found that two defendants acted within their rights in 2019 when they publicly recounted claims that Harrison had acted inappropriately toward minors.
Ryan Gilligan, a former religious brother, made eyewitness reports of observing questionable behavior involving minors by the now laicized priest and credibly accused, former Msgr. Craig Harrison, as well as an account of his own first-hand experience of being sexually harassed by Harrison. The Merced County District Attorney considered whether to file criminal charges against Harrison concerning these and other allegations that he sexually abused minors. We stand in a victory ovation for the defendants in these cases for their conviction and stamina in upholding the truth.
Through his bravery, Ryan Gilligan has validated the truth. But more importantly, he has made the church safer for all, especially kids. We both admire him and feel grateful to him. We are glad the defamation case filed by Harrison has been swiftly dismissed.
In a statement shared with permission to us by Gilligan, his attorneys said:
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.
Mr. Harrison had filed two lawsuits against our clients: one against Stephen Brady and the organization he leads, Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc., and another against Harrison's first public accuser, Ryan Gilligan. The Court of Appeals correctly found that our clients had engaged in protected speech that could not form the basis of a defamation claim.
California's Anti-SLAPP statute was intended to dispose of frivolous and baseless lawsuits just like the ones Mr. Harrison filed against our clients. To disincentivize such baseless lawsuits, the Anti-SLAPP statute provides that a prevailing defendant's attorneys' fees must be paid by the losing plaintiff. We will now seek to recover from Mr. Harrison the substantial attorneys' fees that our clients have incurred during this process.
Paul M. Jonna and Jeffrey M. Trissell of LiMandri & Jonna LLP represented Roman Catholic Faithful, Mr. Brady, and Mr. Gilligan in these two lawsuits.
We encourage all those who made allegations against Harrison to the Diocese of Fresno and any other witnesses to continue to speak the truth and expose clergy sexual abuse. We know that sharing the truth about abuse can be difficult, but it encourages those who have sat in silence to come forward. We believe those who should be held accountable for victimization in religious organizations hold the missing pieces of discovery victims need for closure and legal claims.
We continue our call for the California Attorney General's Office to look into every diocese's sexual abuse reporting to ensure Catholic dioceses relayed this information as required to secular authorities.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-262-0578), Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California ([email protected], 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)