Split Verdict in Duluth Priest's Lawsuit Against Abuse Accuser

By Baihly Warfield
Eyewitness News 10/13 ABC
August 24, 2018

[with video]

A priest who sued a man accusing him of sexual abuse has an answer from a jury. 

A jury decided Thursday that the accuser, who came forward Friday and identified himself as TJ Davis, did interfere with the Rev. William Graham's employment but did not intentionally cause emotional distress for the priest.

In 2016, Graham was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by "Doe 446." The then-anonymous victim sued several parishes; Graham himself was not named as a defendant, but the Diocese of Duluth placed him on administrative leave as a result of the allegations.

A short time later, Graham sued his accuser, saying that he interfered with current and future employment relationships and that he intentionally inflicted emotional distress. 

The two sides seem to have different interpretations of the jury's verdict, though.

"When you look at the verdict, you look at what their claims were, you look at what they said, it's clear what the jury heard and what they saw," Mike Bryant, one of Davis' attorneys, said. 

"Their position is simply absurd. It's ludicrous," Graham's attorney, Michael Puklich said of the other attorneys. 

Davis, the alleged victim, says that Graham sexually abused him three times when he was 15 years old, which was between 1977-78.

However, Puklich said he has no doubt that his client, who is now 68, was wrongfully accused. 

"There was only one issue that caused Father Graham to be removed from his parish at St. Michael, and that is the complaint that this one accuser made," Puklich said. "One guy, one accusation that happened 40 years ago."

He said the fact that jurors said Davis was not justified in interfering with the priest's employment says a lot.

"If the claim was true, that's an automatic reason for justification. The only reason for unjustification is a false claim," Puklich said. 

Earlier this month, the diocese added Graham to a credibly accused list, which "has been affirmed by the Vatican," a diocese spokesperson said.

"He was put on the credibly accused list by the church," Bryant said. "The church looked at this, and their standard is very high."

Puklich did not agree that the finding proves Graham's guilt. 

"The labeling of somebody being credibly accused doesn't have the same meaning that we think it was," he said. "It just means that there is some evidence."

Friday morning, Bryant and Mike Finnegan, Davis' attorneys, denounced Bishop Paul Sirba for not testifying during the three-day trial and not providing Graham's file. 

"Instead of him showing up and testifying in this case, he sent his lawyer to fight it so he wouldn't have to testify, wouldn't have to tell this jury the truth," Finnegan said.

The diocese released a statement explaining why Bishop Sirba did not testify, saying that he did give a deposition 18 months ago.

"Bishop Sirba did not refuse to testify at trial," the statement reads. "Rather, the attorney for Mr. Davis demanded the Bishop appear at trial on unreasonably short notice, which did not allow adequate time for Bishop Sirba to adjust his schedule. The Court agreed and excused Bishop from having to appear at trial." 

Davis asked the bishop to make public all of the information he has. 

"I'd like to ask the Bishop to come clean, please release Graham's file along with the other files that he's sitting on," Davis said. 

Puklich said this lawsuit was Graham's one chance to clear his name and that he feels they did that. 

"A priest finally said, I'm not going to turn the other cheek," the attorney said. 

Finnegan and Bryant work for Jeff Anderson & Associates, a national law firm that has worked on many sexual abuse cases. They said even though Davis' original claim has been stalled by the Diocese of Duluth's bankruptcy, they will fight on.

Because Graham is on the "credibly accused" list, he has been removed from public ministry. He ;ast served at St. Michael's parish in the Lakeside neighborhood until he was put on administrative leave in 2016.

He is still listed as a pastor at St. Michael's on the diocese's website

The diocese said its commitment is to the safety of children and to supporting victims.

"The Diocese of Duluth is committed to offering assistance to anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct on the part of the clergy and strongly encourages anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse to report such abuse to the civil authorities and to the Diocese of Duluth," a statement said.



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