UPDATE:: Judge nullifies $14.5M defamation claim against clergy sex abuse crusader__
A federal judge has tossed out a jury’s $14.5 million verdict against a Freeport-based advocate for children sexually abused by clergy, finding the plaintiffs’ defamation case had a fatal flaw from the start.
U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock ruled Monday that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the complaint from Catholic brother Michael Geilenfeld and a nonprofit for which he worked because most of his life, assets and affairs are in Haiti and not his home state of Iowa.
In his opinion, Woodcock called the introduction of the late jurisdiction question “an extraordinary turn of events.”
“To say that the defendant raised this issue late is an understatement,” Woodcock wrote in the introduction to his opinion, “but unlike virtually any other legal issue, a court’s jurisdiction cannot be waived and may be raised at any time, even after a verdict and on appeal, because jurisdiction goes to whether the court can legally hear the case.”
Geilenfeld and the nonprofit Hearts with Haiti had successfully sued Paul Kendrick of Freeport for accusing Geilenfeld of molesting children in his care at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Although I was confusing this with another case, it is important to note the damage that can be done by false allegation and those seeking vengeance for whatever reasons.
Richmond-area board members of a North Carolina-based nonprofit that does work in Haiti celebrated a recent verdict which they said symbolically exonerated executive director Michael Geilenfeld from accusations of child molestation.Local board members react to Haiti nonprofit CEO defamation case - Richmond Times-Dispatch: City Of Richmond News
Paul Kendrick, a Maine activist for sexual abuse victims, was ordered to pay $14.5 million to Geilenfeld and the charity after leading a four-year email campaign to hundreds of donors perpetuating false accusations, The Associated Press reported.
The trial in Maine included testimony of Willie Dell, a former Richmond councilwoman and longtime friend of the nonprofit, on the executive director’s behalf, as well as seven Haitian men who claimed Geilenfeld sexually abused them while at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince.
Three of the 11 board members for Hearts with Haiti live in the Richmond area, and several churches in the area frequently send volunteers to the organization’s Wings of Hope home for children with disabilities, St. Joseph’s Home for Boys and Trinity House for program graduates’ business startups.
“I saw Michael as a very caring person … who was about saving the children, as many as he could,” said Dell, who first visited the home in 1986 and then up to twice per year since. “He determined they were going to be a family and live as a family.”
Three of the accusers never lived at the home and the others never exhibited signs of abuse, Dell said. Board member Brenda Halbrooks, pastor at Three Chopt Presbyterian Church, said the verdict affirmed the integrity of the organization and ministry.