A federal defamation trial involving an outspoken advocate for child sex abuse victims who has accused the founder of an orphanage in Haiti of abusing boys opened Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Ten jurors – eight women and two men – were selected Monday to hear the case. Attorneys for Paul Kendrick of Freeport, who is being sued for defamation, and for plaintiff Michael Geilenfeld will deliver opening statements on Tuesday in the trial, which is expected to be both lengthy and emotionally charged.

U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. cautioned both Kendrick, 65, and Geilenfeld, 63, on Monday about making any outbursts that might taint the jury in any way. The two tussled verbally at a pretrial hearing last month.

“Each of you will likely hear things about yourself that you profoundly disagree with and that strike you right to the core,” Woodcock told the two men. “I do not want to admonish you in front of the jury. It will not help your case if I do that.”

Geilenfeld filed his lawsuit in February 2013, alleging that Kendrick wrote repeatedly in emails and on a blog that Geilenfeld sexually abused boys at his orphanage in Haiti. Geilenfeld has denied the charges.

Kendrick has said he felt compelled to share what he heard from victims and their family members.

The defamation trial was supposed to begin in October but was delayed after Geilenfeld was imprisoned in Haiti while police investigated Kendrick’s claims. Criminal charges against Geilenfeld were dropped in April, but only after he spent 237 days locked up. Haitian officials have since told The Associated Press that attorneys for alleged abuse victims have petitioned to have the case re-examined.

In addition to what he says was wrongful imprisonment, Geilenfeld’s suit claims that Kendrick’s accusations have resulted in the loss of at least $2 million in donations to Hearts of Haiti, the nonprofit organization that raises money for Geilenfeld’s orphanage. The suit also has since been amended by Geilenfeld’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, to reflect damages his client suffered while imprisoned.

Geilenfeld is among the 39 witnesses that could be called, along with several others who have traveled from Haiti for the trial.

Although the case is not about whether Geilenfeld committed abuse, Kendrick’s attorney, David Walker, will be compelled to offer evidence that he did, since the best defense against defamation of character is truth.

In court documents, Walker has indicated he plans to offer testimony from seven individuals, two of whom will appear in person, who say they were abused by Geilenfeld.

Geilenfeld, a native of Iowa, founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince in 1985.

Kendrick has been a well-known and zealous critic of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for many years – particularly former Bishop Richard Malone – in the wake of the church’s clergy sex abuse scandal. He is the co-founder of the Maine chapter of a Catholic lay reform group, Voice of the Faithful.

The case already has been eventful.

In April, Kendrick was sanctioned by Judge Woodcock for sharing discovery documents publicly.

And during deposition hearings in Portland last month, Kendrick confronted Geilenfeld in a lobby outside the courtroom and began asking questions, prompting DeTroy to advise Walker to keep his client “under control.”

 


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