A University of Minnesota Law School professor has been awarded more than $1 million in a defamation suit he launched against a woman who prosecutors have said falsely accused him of rape.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Daniel Moreno ruled Monday that Francesco Parisi should receive more than $800,000 for economic losses and $325,000 for emotional, punitive and reputational damages, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Parisi had been charged with rape in 2017 for a crime that was alleged to have taken place in 2015. The charges against him were dropped three weeks after they were filed. Parisi then launched a suit against Morgan Wright, who had brought the rape charges. That suit was heard before Moreno in September.
Moreno’s decision summarized the background.
“This case is about a relationship that started quickly, out of a mutual interest in a potential real estate adventure. The relationship ended quickly too, as the Parties, who were intertwined in the purchase and partition of a condominium unit, became embroiled in issues related to the construction and financing of that project,” Moreno wrote.
“The relationship spanned from September of 2014 to January of 2015. Next was litigation related to that real estate project, as Parisi sought to cancel the purchase contract he made with Wright. So began Wright’s retaliatory offensive, culminating with her defamatory claim that Parisi raped her in January of 2015.”
The judge noted that the real estate dispute triggered Wright’s accusations.
“In March of 2015, Parisi began the process of cancelling the Parties’ real estate contract. Soon after, Wright claimed Parisi tried to run her down with his car. In June of 2016, Parisi’s action to cancel the purchase agreement and evict Wright were affirmed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Directly after, on June 30, 2016, Wright alleged Parisi raped her on January 22, 2015,” he wrote.
Moreno ruled that the charges caused suffering on the part of Parisi.
“Wright caused Parisi to be charged and jailed because of these defamatory statements. Parisi was not able to be with his mother as she passed away while he was being held in custody. Wright continued her defamatory campaign, lobbing various accusations against Parisi and disseminating them to various people. Wright and her plethora of allegations against Parisi lack credibility,” he wrote.
Moreno also noted that in the months after when she claimed she had been raped, Wright had been to several medical appointments and mentioned neither the rape nor the injury she said it had caused to her body.
Wright’s “accusations were false, made with malice,” Moreno ruled, adding that she “injured Parisi as a direct result of her untruthful narrative crusade.”
Parisi’s attorney, John Braun, told the Star Tribune that his client “is pleased that court system has finally unmasked Morgan Wright and recognized her for the liar that she is. … It’s been ruinous to his reputation and his health to have to constantly be battling” Wright.
“Wright enjoyed the benefit of doubt for years of weaponizing the court system to harass Professor Parisi, and those days are finally over,” he added.
Braun said Parisi still suffers from the false allegation because an internet search for him “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.”
“It was a horror movie,” Parisi told KMSP-TV.
“I used to be the popular guy at parties,” he said. “I’m Italian; I bring the good wine. I don’t get so many invitations now.”
The settlement appears to be the largest defamation award in Minnesota history, according to the Star Tribune.
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