The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
In recent years, I've seen many libel lawsuits filed by people who claim to have been wrongly accused of rape (as well as some by people who claim to have been wrongly accused of fabricating rape accusations). Monday, there was a verdict in one of them, as it happens involving a law professor (whom I don't know personally); Minneapolis Star Tribune (Paul Walsh) broke the story:
Court records show that the 57-year-old Parisi and Wright had an extensive court battle over real estate before the rape charges were leveled.
According to court and police records, Wright said she had known Parisi since 2014, when the two had a romantic relationship. The two agreed to buy a condo in December of that year.
But the relationship soured in January 2015. By March, Parisi sued to cancel the purchase agreement [and later Wright countersued]. She filed an order for protection that same day, accusing him of preventing her from leaving his apartment and of yelling and screaming at her in January…. In April 2015, the restraining order was dismissed following a settlement.
In June 2016, Parisi prevailed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and, "Two weeks later, Wright reported to police that Parisi had sexually assaulted her in January 2015, according to records."
Wright claimed Parisi raped her so viciously that it broke three of her teeth and she needed to have colon surgery to repair the damage.
But the lead investigator never got the dental or medical records until after Parisi was charged. When they were obtained, they showed that in February 2015 the accuser went to a doctor for a migraine, but reported nothing about a rape or any physical injuries….
The criminal charges against Parisi were dropped in March 2017 based on lack of evidence. Here are some excerpts from Judge Daniel C. Moreno's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order for Judgment in Parisi v. Wright (Minn. Dist. Ct.):
As the fact-finder, the Court concludes that Wright did not act in good faith when she made a police report with Sergeant Stenerson, which caused Parisi to be arrested and criminally charged with a sex crime. Wright fabricated the many accusations she made against Parisi in retaliation for a failed relationship and a real estate venture gone awry. Good faith cannot exist in this context.
Although Wright professes to believe her own accusations, it cannot be the case that one acts in good faith by convincing oneself that false accusations regarding the experience of a crime are true. Reckless disregard for the truth precludes good faith—Wright acted in reckless disregard for the truth when she made a false police report claiming Parisi raped her. The other examples found in caselaw referencing subjective belief concern subjective belief about a legal conclusion (discrimination), or someone's subjective belief that something happened to someone else (reporting statute). Wright cannot hide behind her false distortion of reality.
Parisi has demonstrated, by the preponderance of the evidence, that Wright falsified damaging narratives about him in retaliation for a failed real estate deal and a soured relationship that soured….
Parisi outlines the crimes Wright has accused him of committing, the "loathsome disease" she has accused him of having (HIV), the "unchastity" she has accused him of engaging in, and the unprofessional conduct she has accused him of doing. Some of these include statements made in a litigation context, which, under the Court's Summary Judgment Order [entered in June 2019], are subject to a litigation privilege.
The Court finds Parisi has satisfied his burden of production and persuasion, and demonstrated that Wright committed many acts of defamation against him. She caused false statements to be published, and the record is replete with Wright's varying false allegations, made to others, that tended to harm Parisi's reputation, and that were understood to refer to Parisi….
It is worth repeating that the Court's belief in the veracity of Wright's testimony dwindled while the trial progressed, as evidence of her inconsistent and questionable conduct was revealed piece by piece. She lost her credibility. Her propensity for truthfulness and honesty winnowed.
She lied about her advanced degrees. She signed e-mails as Dr. Wright when she is not a doctor. Her testimony and medical records conflicted time and time again—she consistently reported to doctors that she had not had a seizure for years despite also claiming to have had one while Parisi raped her. She never reported an anal fissure, rectal prolapse, or fecal incontinence until it aligned with her narrative that Parisi raped her a year and a half after the alleged incident, and then she attempted to amend her medical records to backdate a rectal exam and the presence of an anal fissure so it would fit her fabricated story. She even testified that she never told any of her doctors about the problems with her anus, despite also claiming that she had a rectal exam in February of 2015.
All of what she reported to doctors changed in the summer of 2016, after she lost in the Court of Appeals and was facing eviction. She was caught in a lie in HRO I [the first harassment restraining order hearing], when the car she claimed Parisi tried to run her down with, for the third time, had been sold months before. All of these lies and inconsistencies cumulated until it became clear that Wright was espousing fiction in order to purposefully injure Parisi….
This case required the Court to believe one party and disbelieve the other. It would have been a dereliction of the Court's role as fact-finder to avoid making such a determination. The process of drawing conclusions about credibility, truth, and falsehood was technical, complex, and difficult. Ultimately, the evidence presented at trial required the Court to find that Parisi was subject to defamation that harmed his personal and professional life.
Parisi introduced evidence that he was seriously harmed by the rape accusations, both in lost consulting and outside teaching income, and in other ways:
Dean Jenkins testified to the professional fallout after Parisi's arrest. Immediately after Parisi was arrested on a criminal sexual conduct charge, he was barred from the University of Minnesota Law School. He was prevented from completing the academic year, from accessing the law library, or from contacting his students.
Since then, Dean Jenkins agreed with Parisi's testimony concerning his difficulty retaining research assistants, a key aspect of Parisi's legal scholarship…. Dean Jenkins also agreed that after Parisi's arrest, enrollment in his classes dropped precipitously, with some classes being cancelled due to low enrollment. Female enrollment became almost non-existent.
The court awarded Parisi $864,514 in financial losses, $100,000 in emotional damages "for missing his mother's passing while being in jail, and for his experience being jailed and criminally charged because of the false police report Wright made to Sergeant Stenerson," $25,000 "for the impact on Parisi's personal life because of the false police report," $100,000 in presumed damages to reputation, and $100,000 in punitive damages:
False police reports about a crime as devastating as sexual assault, made with the intent to harm another are especially serious and hazardous to the public, since they damage the public's propensity to believe future victims. Filing a false police report is also a crime, and punitive damages are meant to deter criminal acts. The duration of Wright's defamatory conduct has also lasted years, culminating in various court proceedings and protracted litigation battles. All of the above weigh in favor of a significant punitive damages award—Parisi's life was, to an extent, ruined by his arrest and the criminal charges brought against him because of Wright's false allegations. Such an accusation and criminal charge would profoundly affect anyone. The Court acknowledges Wright's claimed poor financial condition, which weighs against a high punitive damages award.