Law Professors

Law prof wins defamation award of nearly $1.2M in suit against rape accuser

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A University of Minnesota law professor has obtained a defamation judgment of nearly $1.2 million against a former girlfriend for an alleged false accusation of rape.

Judge Daniel Moreno awarded the money to law professor Francesco Parisi in a May 18 ruling following a bench trial, report the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Fox 9, Fox News and Above the Law. The award includes $100,000 in punitive damages.

Parisi spent three weeks in jail and was not able to be with his mother as she was dying. After his arrest, Parisi was barred from completing the academic year, from accessing the law library, and from contacting his students, according to testimony by the Minnesota law dean.

Prosecutors dropped charges in March 2017. Parisi had difficulty retaining research assistants, and enrollment in his classes “dropped precipitously,” the opinion says. Female enrollment was almost nonexistent.

Parisi’s accuser was Morgan Wright, a woman who falsely told people that she a degree from the Juilliard School of Music and a Master of Art degree in educational psychology, according to Moreno’s decision. She also signed emails “Dr. Wright,” even though she is not a doctor.

Wright’s other allegations against Parisi included sexual wrongdoing with others and attempts to run her down with his black Jeep on three different occasions. The last time, Parisi no longer owned the car.

“The preponderance of the evidence clearly shows that Wright created a destructive fiction,” Moreno wrote. “Wright publicized allegations without regard for their truth or effect: that Parisi raped her, that he had sex with underage girls after giving them alcohol, that his daughter accused him of raping her, and that he was HIV positive. She spread these defamatory statements to Parisi’s employer (the University of Minnesota), to the Minnesota Department of Health, and most importantly to the police.”

Wright had met Parisi while walking her seizure-alert dog outside his condo in September 2014. They entered into a sexual relationship and made plans to buy the condo above Parisi’s unit.

The condo purchase would allow Parisi to expand his unit and Wright to have a studio unit in the remaining half of the space. Each was to pay half the purchase cost, and each would put $15,000 into a joint account for construction. But Wright stopped paying contractors and initially withdrew her $15,000, Parisi testified. He paid the entire construction cost and the entire purchase price.

After Parisi sought to evict Wright from the studio unit, Wright sought to enjoin cancelation of the purchase agreement and later amended the suit to add a battery claim against Parisi. The battery claim said Parisi tried to run Wright down with his car but did not initially mention a rape.

After Wright lost her appeal in the eviction action in June 2016, she told police that Parisi had raped her in January 2015. Wright alleged that the rape caused her rectum to prolapse, and she called a friend afterward while sobbing. She did not disclose to the friend why she was so upset. The friend confirmed the call.

In subsequent text messages, the parties expressed their love for each other. Wright went to the hospital in February 2015 for weakness, abdominal pain, diarrhea and a migraine. The record did not reflect a rectal prolapse. Wright did not report a rape to the doctor.

Parisi’s attorney, John Braun, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that an internet search for Parisi still “returns a mug shot and headlines about him being a rapist, and it will forever. So part of the court’s message is that in the 21st century this is a greater harm than it might have been in the past, and an award needs to anticipate the long arc of future harm still to be endured by its victim.”

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