Bakersfield TV station wins motion in defamation case

A California TV station will not have to turn over footage of a press conference held by a Catholic activist in which a popular Bakersfield priest was accused of inappropriate and illegal sexual activity.

The motion sought to compel KGET (Channel 17) to hand over unedited videotape of a May press conference held by Stephen Brady, an Illinois activist who accused Monsignor Craig Harrison of having sex with two high school students while serving as a pastor in Fresno County.

The motion was filed in California Superior Court by attorneys representing Brady who is defending himself against a defamation lawsuit filed by Mgr. Harrison, who has vehemently denied the allegations and vowed to clear his name in court (Mgr. Harrison is pursuing an additional lawsuit against a second accuser — a former friend of the pastor — who made similar allegations).

Brady said the tape was needed because it would prove the activist never defamed Mgr. Harrison during the May press conference. KGET fought the motion, saying state and federal laws protected its newsgathering materials.

KGET never aired the footage, and California law typically protects unused news material from disclosure.

On Wednesday, California Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw said KGET did not have to disclose the tape.

“Compelling disclosure of the news organization’s unpublished, privileged information is premature,” Bradshaw wrote in court records cited by the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.

Judge Bradshaw had not yet ruled on a second motion filed by the defense team that sought the disclosure of Mgr. Harrison’s personnel records from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

Mgr. Harrison is currently on administrative leave.

KGET, a dual NBC-CW affiliate, is owned by Nexstar Media Group.