MINNEAPOLIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--When a Duluth jury sided with a Catholic priest’s argument that he was entitled to receive damages after a former student at a Catholic high school falsely accused him of inappropriate sexual contact in the mid-1970s, it certainly broke with recent legal trends – and may have set a precedent, according to Mic Puklich, a partner at the Chanhassen, Minn.-based Neaton & Puklich law firm.
“A priest going on the offensive to clear his name from being falsely accused of sexual abuse – and winning in court. Now that’s rare, if not unprecedented,” says Mic Puklich, the Chanhassen, Minn. lawyer who represented the Rev. William Graham in the civil lawsuit he filed against his accuser. The jury delivered its verdict the evening of Thursday, Aug. 23 (Minnesota Sixth District Court, case file number 69-DU-CV-16-1636).
The abuse scandals engulfing the Catholic Church have created a "guilty until proven innocent" climate for priests accused of abuse, says Puklich. “The Church’s response to child abuse and sexual misconduct has been abhorrent, and while the guilty must be punished and the victims provided a chance to heal and find some form of justice; we, as a society, must also hold those who make false allegations accountable, we fail when the truth becomes optional,” says Puklich.
The jury agreed with Graham’s contention that his accuser interfered with Graham’s ability to continue working in his capacity as a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Duluth without justification, says Puklich. In accordance with Church procedure the Diocese placed Graham on administrative leave from his position as a pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church immediately upon learning of the accusations. Graham hasn’t been able to return to work since May 2016.
The jury ordered the accuser to pay Graham $13,500 to cover his lost earnings through August 2018.
All Graham really wanted from the accuser was for him to apologize for falsely accusing him of abuse – he would have dropped the lawsuit then, says Puklich.
Graham’s accuser alleged the sexual molestation occurred in 1977-78, when the accuser was a student at Cathedral High School (now the Marshall School), a Catholic-run high school in Duluth. The accusations against Graham surfaced in a lawsuit that the accuser filed in Minnesota district court in May 2016 against the school and two parish churches in Duluth. The accused filed his lawsuit just two days before the expiration of a special Minnesota state law that extended the statute of limitations for filing sexual abuse-related lawsuits.
Even amid the sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church today, it’s vital for people to remember that not all accused are guilty; cases need to be decided by the evidence, not on generalized public opinion, says Puklich. “I don’t know how many other Father Grahams are out there – members of the Catholic clergy falsely accused of abuse – but I suspect there are some, perhaps even in Minnesota. If so, let them take heart from the way the justice system worked for Fr. Graham.”
Puklich is a trial attorney, practicing primarily in the areas of employment and business litigation through his firm, Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P. He has represented numerous individuals and corporations in a wide variety of litigation in both federal and state courts. For more information and to contact Puklich, call 952-258-8444 or visit the firm’s website at www.neatonpuklich.com.