Napa Priest's Slander Suit Tossed out

By David Ryan
Napa Valley Register [Napa CA]
April 10, 2006

A Napa priest lost his defamation lawsuit last week against a women accusing him of sexual abuse in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago.

Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray of St. Appollinaris Catholic Church in Napa filed a slander suit against Pasadena resident Erin Brady after she sued the Los Angeles Archidiocese, claiming he had molested her. Alzugaray's lawyers vigorously deny the claims in her lawsuit, which have not been considered yet by a judge or jury.

Alzugaray's slander case drew to a close Thursday when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon Mayeda dismissed his claim against her. Claims against her lawyers and a group called the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had been dismissed previously.

Brady, along with 10 other named plaintiffs, filed suit against the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 2003, accusing it of negligence. In Brady's case, she said she has recovered memories of being sexually abused as a child by Alzugaray at a Monrovia school in the late 1960s. That case is wrapped up with hundreds of other ongoing cases against the archdiocese.

Emily Ayers, Alzugaray's Los Angeles-based attorney, said Mayeda threw out the defamation case because the judge believed Alzugaray could not proceed with the lawsuit unless he was specifically named as a defendant in Brady's lawsuit. Alzugaray is not a named defendant in Brady's case against the archdiocese.

Ray Boucher, Brady's Beverly Hills-based attorney, said Alzugaray will be asked to pay more than $10,000 in legal costs, not counting attorney's fees, for the slander suit. The cleric could also have to pay more than $120,000 in legal fees to the other defamation suit defendants, Boucher said.

Mary Grant, SNAP's western regional director, called on Santa Rosa Diocese Bishop Daniel Walsh to apologize, saying that allowing Alzugaray to file his defamation lawsuit sent a message church officials are not going to prevent abuse. She called it a "revictimization" tactic to silence abuse victims.

"Even if it doesn't silence the victim, it can send a message to other victims," Grant said.

Deirdre Frontczak, a spokeswoman for the Santa Rosa Diocese, which includes Napa County, said Walsh would offer no apology after Alzugaray's court loss.

"Monsignor filed that suit as a private citizen like anyone else who has the right to file any suits they want as private citizens," she said. "The bishop or the Diocese didn't have any part of that."

Brady said she had no expectation Walsh would apologize.

"I would rather see him remove Monsignor Alzugaray from the ministry," she said. "I would rather see him start telling the truth."

Alzugaray's attorneys have said the charges are unfounded, and point to the controversy surrounding the reliability of recovered memories, in which people recall a traumatic event years after they believe it took place.

Ayers said the other 27 priests referred to in the lawsuit against the archdiocese would face similar technical problems as Alzugaray did if they chose to sue other accusers for defamation.

"Basically the monsignor has no remedy under the law because of the way it reads," she said. "If the (other) priests didn't commit the abuse they have no way to clear their name."


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