The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has decided not to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against a Maine activist who accused the founder of an orphanage in Haiti of being a serial pedophile.

Paul Kendrick

The top court’s ruling on Thursday will allow most of the claims against Paul Kendrick of Freeport to proceed in the lower court. The case has been dragging on for six years.

Michael Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti first filed the defamation lawsuit against Kendrick in federal court in 2013. A jury ordered Kendrick to pay $14.5 million in damages, despite testimony from seven men who said they were sexually abused as boys.

But that verdict was overturned when a U.S. appeals court ruled that the federal court in Maine was the wrong jurisdiction for the lawsuit. Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti then sued Kendrick in state court in 2016. Kendrick made multiple attempts to dismiss the case but was mostly unsuccessful. He then appealed to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

His attorney argued that his statements were covered by a Maine law that protects people from meritless suits aimed at chilling First Amendment rights. But the justices questioned whether Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute was intended to apply to harassment and cyberbullying. They ultimately ruled that it did not cover Kendrick’s assertions, in part because he directed his messages to the charity’s benefactors instead of a government body.

“The statute seeks to protect those exercising their First Amendment rights from retaliatory lawsuits,” Associate Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the unanimous opinion. “But where a lawsuit alleges a string of tortious and defamatory conduct, only a small portion of which includes petitioning activity, the protections of the anti-SLAPP statute are not applicable.”

The case will continue in the Cumberland County Superior Court.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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