University of Minnesota Law School Professor Francesco Parisi has won almost $1.2 million in a defamation case against a woman who accused him falsely of rape. It might be the largest defamation verdict in history for Minnesota. It is a rare such verdict in a rape case. However, the defendant was never charged with a false charge, a common practice of police even in some of the most notorious false rape cases like the Duke Lacrosse Case. At the time, Morgan Wright’s false charge destroyed Parisi’s life, including a three-week incarceration which led to his not being with his mother when she died.
Parisi and Wright had a romantic relationship but, when they separated, Parisi sought to cancel an agreement to purchase a condo. On the same day, Wright filed for a protective order. The two fought over the condo for months until a court ruled for Parisi. After that ruling, Wright accused Parisi of sexual assault.
The criminal case collapsed but not until after Parisi was arrested and incarcerated.
The judge in the Hennepin County District Court ruled for Parisi after a bench trial in September, finding Wright’s “plethora of allegations against Parisi lack credibility.” Judge Daniel Moreno further concluded that her “accusations were false, made with malice. [She] injured Parisi as a direct result of her untruthful narrative crusade.”
The Parisi case is a rare example of civil liability. As noted earlier, police rarely charge in these cases or individuals received relatively light sentences (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) despite often ruining the lives of the falsely accused. There are exceptions of longer sentences.
Obviously, such charges could deter victims in coming forward, an important consideration for prosecutors. I have struggled with that dilemma through the years. However, these false allegations often result in the loss of liberty, employment, scholarship, and prospects for the accused. Those are real harms and the civil litigation is often not a real option due to the lack of assets or other barriers. That often leaves the victims of false accusations with no remedy.
That is clearly not the case with Professor Parisi but even this large award does not cover the cost of his arrest and absence from his mother at her death. Yet, this is an important verdict in seeking to deter such false accusations.
Professor Parisi is a very distinguished academic who is teaching as both a Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School and a Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna, Department of Economics. He previously held a chair in Private Law at the University of Milan (Statale) and was appointed Professore Ordinario per Chiara Fama. He received his D.Jur. degree from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, an LL.M. and a J.S.D. and an M.A. degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D in Economics from George Mason University.