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Louisiana Priest Loses Defamation Ruling

(CN) - A Louisiana priest was not defamed by his replacement's letter to their supervisor asking about irregularities in the church's finances, the state Court of Appeals ruled.

Father Randy Roux was the priest of St. John of the Cross Parish Church in the New Orleans Catholic archdiocese. He was replaced in early 2001 by Father Gilmer Martin.

Martin appointed five members of the church to the Finance Council. When the council members reviewed the financial records from Roux's leadership of the church, they reported the following irregularities to the Vicar General:

- The parish had paid to refurbish a tabernacle owned by Father Roux;

- There was a discrepancy between the money donated for the planting of rose bushes and the receipts for those bushes;

- Church property was missing, including a television, stove, pool table, piano and an expensive piece of artwork; and

- A floor-tile salesman accused Father Roux of asking for two receipts for supplies and a check for $500.

Roux, his wife, and his secretary, Jill Micelle, sued Martin and the Financial Council members for defamation and invasion of privacy. They claimed the defendants leaked the allegations in the letter, falsely accusing the Rouxs of receiving stolen property and accusing Micelle of mishandling her bookkeeping job.

The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs did not establish a case strong enough to rise to the level of defamation, and Judge Lombard of the New Orleans-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeal agreed.

"Plaintiffs did not submit any admissible evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact that defendants had any knowledge of falsity of any defamatory words or displayed a reckless disregard for the truth of the statements made in the letter to the Vicar General.

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