A Kern County Superior Court judge has ruled that accused sexual molester Craig Harrison must pay $219,000 in legal fees to a man who criticized Harrison and was promptly sued for libel by Harrison and his team of attorneys.
The ruling by Judge Eric Bradshaw was handed down last week and made public by The Church Militant, a national organization that is devoted to outing sexual predators in the Catholic clergy. The ruling came in the case of Stephen Brady, who runs the organization The Roman Catholic Faithful, which helps track and report on priests accused of wrongdoing.
In the ruling, the court named two Harrison attorneys: civil attorney Craig Edmonston and criminal lawyer Kyle Humphrey. Both were part of Harrison's defense team that worked to silence critics by slapping them with lawsuits, several of which were thrown out of court.
Brady was represented by the San Diego law firm of Limandri & Jonna, which specializes in church abuse cases.
Brady was accused of libel after he held a press conference in Bakersfield to talk about the accusations against Harrison. At the time the libel suit was filed Humphrey said the intent was "to restore the reputation and good name of Monsignor Craig Harrison and to hold accountable these defendants for their false, malicious and reckless accusations."
The court disagreed.
Harrison's lawsuit claimed Brady published false defamatory, libelous, and slanderous statements about Harrison, including that he had sex with two high school students while a pastor in Firebaugh. The lawsuit also claimed that Brady said Harrison would examine boy's private parts every morning. Another claim stated that he had sex with a minor in a Ford Explorer and that teen committed suicide following abuse by Monsignor.
Brady's attorneys argued the case against him was frivolous - they claimed it violated his First Amendment rights to speak about matters already in the public arena - and that they should be reimbursed for attorney costs. The judgment presumably will be paid by Harrison or his group of local supporters.
The $219,000 judgment comes in the Brady case, and a similar outcome could be expected in a second libel case that Harrison lost against Ryan Gilligan, a former Benedictine monk and confident of Harrison's who accused the former priest of sexually inappropriate behavior. Harrison sued Gilligan and lost that case as well.
All of this harkens back to when Harrison, once a wildly popular monsignor, media darling and accomplished fund raiser, was suspended by the Diocese of Fresno in April 2019 after a man came forward to say Harrison abused him when he was a young man. After that numerous other accusations from once young men followed, the church launched a formal investigation, Harrison sued the church and lost and Harrison eventually voluntarily left the church.
So far all of Harrison's lawsuits against his detractors handled by Edmonston and his team - The Catholic Church, Stephen Brady, Ryan Gilligan and a diocese employee - have failed in the courts.
Once Harrison had surrendered all of his priest duties, the church responded by removing all memories of Harrison at St. Francis Church, including taking Harrison's name off the side of a youth center that had been named after him. Harrison is shielded from any criminal charges because of the statute of limitations, but two civil lawsuits by men accusing Harrison of sexual impropriety are making their way through the courts and appear headed to trial.
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