Free Speech

$1M+ Award for Law Professor Libeled by Ex-Girlfriend's Rape Accusation

"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 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 ...."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

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.

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    1. I assume that the parties waived their right to trial by jury. To quote the Minnesota Constitution, “The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate, and shall extend to all cases at law without regard to the amount in controversy. A jury trial may be waived by the parties in all cases in the manner prescribed by law.”

  1. “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.”

    I once administered a student judicial system and when told that he’d broken three of her teeth, I’d have asked which ones and if she would show me them. That’s not an overly invasive request, particularly if you phrase it in a non-threatening manner, i.e. as a genuine request.

    I can’t see a competent cop not doing that. It’s physical evidence, and would be really embarrassing if she *didn’t* have broken teeth, which apparently she didn’t. That’s why you want to see it.

    And this is 18 months after the fact, and you arrest him without getting the medical records *first*? What’s it going to take — a day and maybe having to drive somewhere with a subpoena or warrant? Although can’t she waive HIPPA and give the cops permission to get a copy of her records?

    Might he also have a claim against the police?

    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.

    1. I am also disappointed that she didn’t get charged with a crime — either the false report or attempting to falsify medical records which has gotta be somehow illegal….

    2. “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.”

      That line was in the newspaper article, and should have been so identified. My bad.

    3. In the “me too” era, should we expect that even criminal detectives are afraid to disbelieve whatever uncorroborated things a woman says?

    4. I once administered a student judicial system

      Uh huh. I once flew on the Space Shuttle.

  2. Why was the following statement necessary?

    “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”

    1. Well, it’s not like the court can call her “a lying b*tch” although the judge probably wanted to do that…..

      1. No, I’m serious. If one is fact-finding in a legal dispute, isn’t it commonplace to believe one party and not the other? Yet the Judge clearly thinks what happened in this case requires special explanation.

        1. Maybe the judge didn’t like being in the position of telling the public he disbelieves a rape complainant.

          1. I also noticed this:
            “The Court acknowledges Wright’s claimed poor financial condition, which weighs against a high punitive damages award.”

            That strikes me as justifying not awarding considerably higher punitive damages, which then leads to the need to tell the public just how badly wronged the plaintiff was — that the judge clearly believed that she was a total lying schmuck and that his punitive damage award shouldn’t be viewed as reflecting on any question he might have on that matter.

  3. I would say that at this point Mr. Parisi has thoroughly learned why you don’t stick your dick in crazy. Even though he ended up much better off than most guys who failed to heed that advice.

    1. It’s why I think that Sexbots will be so successful…..

      1. Until the Lithium Ion batteries fail with the user in the saddle, leading to near fatal electrocutions.

        1. As opposed to situations like this — which are far too frequent?

          How many times to Lithium Ion batteries really fail???

          1. “How many times to Lithium Ion batteries really fail???”

            Don’t know, but I have heard of a case where a youngish man with a pacemaker (that was set too sensitive) and his girlfriend both ended up with electrical burns to the genitals because his pace maker kept going off while they were having sex.

            1. ROTF,L….

              I can actually see that happening — except that it wasn’t supposed to ground through her and hence not via the physical connection between the two of them.

              And electrically speaking, there had to be a return path back from her to him and then to the other pole on the unit, although it might have been via, umm, less sensitive parts of their bodies.

              1. Well, they were having sex on a neon sign in Vegas when it happened. I got this from a show on cable TV “Sex sent me to the ER”

                1. IIRC, at first it was thought they had been electrocuted by a fault in the neon sign, but ER personnel kept getting small shocks when touching him, which eventually clued them in to the problem.

            2. Can you provide any links or background on this? I tried a simple web search and found nothing. It just sounds like an urban legend to me – pacemaker leads are in the heart itself, while the generator is implanted under the skin of the chest (usually). I mean, there shouldn’t be any way it could malfunction to generate electrical burns anywhere, much less multiple burns on the genitals of two people…
              If it is a true story, there must be some very unusual circumstances behind it that I’m curious about.

        2. Oh come now. When I was a kid, I had an uncle who was a cattle rancher. In those days they used electric fences. We kids thought it was great fun to pee on the electric fence. The current would follow the urine stream back and you’d get zapped in the dick. Great fun. We even had contests for who could do it the longest.

          1. Electrical burns are usually caused either by the arc (the final connection to complete the circuit) or by increased resistance,

            In your case, the final connection was between the urine and the fence, that’s where the arc (if any) would be. Here, for some unknown reason, the final connection was between the two of them, where/when his part touched hers. (It’s entirely possible that the electricity was already flowing into her and coming back to him via their coital connection.)

            1. You might want to investigate the concept of amperage. If a pacemaker is emitting enough amperage to cause burns … something is really, really broken.

    2. “I would say that at this point Mr. Parisi has thoroughly learned why you don’t stick your dick in crazy.”

      Although if he actually ends up collecting the judgement…

    3. “Crazy has places to hide in / that are deeper than any goodbye.” (Though Leonard Cohen makes it sound so much more romantic than it usually is ….)

    4. Maybe, he never saw {i]Fatal Attraction[/i] with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, or he never imagined it could happen to him. One wonders how obviously crazy she was before it became undeniable.

  4. “Although if he actually ends up collecting the judgement…”
    I’m guessing that simply getting a formal judicial determination that she was lying was of as much, or more interest to him than any possibility of collecting dollars.

  5. Since the plaintiff was in prison for a few weeks because of the false rape allegation, I am surprised that the plaintiff’s claim was just for libel and not for something like malicious prosecution. I’m not familiar with Minnesota law, but in most states, if you make false claims to law enforcement, and they make an arrest as a result of it, there is a claim for malicious prosecution.

  6. Bitches be crazy.

    1. It’s possible she is.

      If she was committed — if she was in and out of a psych ward — then the medical records for her purported injuries would be comingled with her psych records and that would explain the delay in obtaining them.

      “Wright cannot hide behind her false distortion of reality.”

      That line may mean more than we realize…

  7. I just don’t understand – why would she lie?

      1. like a woman defeated in real estate litigation? I don’t think the original quote works that well here.

  8. There is a major gap in the facts reported by the newspaper. It says the lead investigator got her medical and dental records. But then it just mentions a migraine. What do the dental records show? People do not go to a dentist for a migraine. Were there no dental records? Did she even go to a dentist at all?

  9. Doesn’t really add up for me. Do police really arrest people based on a rape allegation *and no other supporting evidence*? It can’t be.

  10. Should we expect rather less commentary concerning the case of former Judge Kozinski?

    1. I don’t know a whole lot about that judge – what little I do know is negative – but maybe I should reassess my judgment given that you don’t like him. If you keep denouncing him, he can’t have been all bad.

  11. This puts me in naming of Jakob Wohl, who has fabricated sexual assault charges against Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. IANAL, but my understanding is that public officials can almost never win libel/slander cases (nonwithstanding Trump’s legal analysis on Twitter). Since Wohl glories in harming his victims’ electoral chances, could be face the sane liability for damages?

  12. The older I get, the more I realize that while it is the people who act thoughtlessly – so thoughtlessly they don’t even think to cover their tracks – who are most likely to get caught and who generate the most anger and the severest punishment on society’s part, it is the people who act coolly – taking great care to get their story consistent and cover their tracks – who tend to do the most actual damage. Yet they are the least likely to be caught, and less likely to suffer severe social approbrium when they are.

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