PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine activist who accused an orphanage founder in Haiti of being a serial pedophile asked the state supreme court on Tuesday to dismiss a defamation lawsuit that was moved from federal court.
An attorney for Paul Kendrick told justices that the assertions were protected by a Maine law that protects people from meritless suits aimed at chilling First Amendment rights.
The argument that invoked Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute was met with skepticism from justices who questioned whether the law was intended to apply to harassment and cyberbullying.
But Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley suggested there’s a balancing act when between free speech and defamation.
“Are we not sliding into an areas where we have to be very careful not to chill the voices of people who say we must speak up in support of children who have been abused?” she asked an attorney at one point. “We know that if people are afraid to speak up that abuse can go on for decades.”
The defamation case has been dragging on since 2013.
A federal jury in Maine awarded $14.5 million to Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, despite testimony from seven men who said they were sexually abused as boys. But the verdict was overturned after a U.S. appeals court ruled that a federal courtroom in Maine was the wrong jurisdiction.
Now Geilenfeld and Hearts With Haiti are suing Kendrick again, this time in state court.
Kendrick of Freeport became an outspoken voice during the priest sex abuse scandal and helped to found the state chapter of Voice of the Faithful. He began zeroing in on Geilenfeld in 2011.
Geilenfeld, an Iowa native, testified that the abuse allegations were “vicious, vile lies.” He contends Kendrick’s allegations caused him to be falsely imprisoned for 237 days in Haiti.
Geilenfeld is currently living in the Dominican Republic, according to court documents.