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Jury Vindicates Duluth Priest of Sex Abuse Accusations, Says Minnesota Attorney Mic Puklich

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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.

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