By Paul Walsh, The Star Tribune
In what appears to be the largest award of its kind in state history, a University of Minnesota Law School professor has won nearly $1.2 million in his defamation case against a woman whose false rape allegation had him locked up in jail for three weeks and charged with a felony.
Francesco Parisi prevailed Monday in Hennepin County District Court after a bench trial in September. Judge Daniel Moreno ruled that more than $800,000 of the award will go to Parisi for economic losses, along with $325,000 to cover emotional, punitive and reputational damages.
The County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Parisi in March 2017 after saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that he raped the woman in 2015.
Morgan Wright’s “plethora of allegations against Parisi lack credibility,” the judge wrote in his ruling, adding that her “accusations were false, made with malice. [She] injured Parisi as a direct result of her untruthful narrative crusade.”
Moreno also pointed out one more consequence of the false allegations, writing, “Parisi was not able to be with his mother as she passed away while he was being held in custody.”
One of Wright’s attorneys, Cassandra Merrick, said Thursday that Wright declined to comment about the case including whether an appeal is being considered. Although the Star Tribune does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, Wright is being identified because prosecutors did not find evidence to support her accusations and she was found liable in civil court for defamation.
Parisi’s attorney, John Braun, said 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, with whom Parisi was involved in a relationship.
He also pointed out that “Wright enjoyed the benefit of doubt for years of weaponizing the court system to harass Professor Parisi, and those days are finally over.”
Despite the vindication and monetary award, Braun added, 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.”
Even though Judge Moreno found that Wright knowingly filed a false police report, she was not charged with a crime, representatives for the city and county attorney’s offices said.
The award appears to be the largest for a defamation suit in state history, Braun said. In 2011, a Dakota County jury awarded a holistic healer from Hudson, Wis., $1 million in compensatory damages from KSTP-TV for a March 2009 story it aired about her treatment of a patient.
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. 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.
Early the next month, Wright countersued him over the purchase cancellation attempt but made no mention of the alleged assault. In April 2015, the restraining order was dismissed following a settlement.
Wright filed two more complaints against him over the property, and for the first time in a January 2016 filing accused him of beating her — but she made no mention of rape.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Parisi in the property dispute in June 2016. 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.
In a report police received after Parisi was charged, medical records showed that Wright went to a colon specialist nearly two years after the alleged rape.
Parisi has taught law at the U and economics at the University of Bologna in Italy since 2006, according to the résumé posted on the law school’s website. He has three law degrees and two economics degrees, it says. His U biography says he has written 10 books and roughly 200 papers in law and economics.