Planned Parenthood goes after undercover videomaker David Daleiden: 1st Amendment case now being heard in Federal Court

 

 

By Michael Hernandez 

SAN FRANCISCO—Possibly the most important abortion related case involving 1st Amendment rights is now being decided in federal court as Planned Parenthood engages in an all-out legal assault against citizen journalist David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress for producing undercover videos four years ago that exposed the organization’s illegal selling of aborted babies’ body parts and resulted in Congressional investigations into illegal, unethical, and immoral practices within the abortion and fetal tissue procurement industries.

A pro-life investigative group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) which was composed of a team of citizen journalists including Sandra Merritt—a grandmother—posted disturbing undercover videos including one in which Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research described “crushing” the “fetus” in a manner that kept internal organs intact to be sold for medical research. She also shared researchers’ requests for other specific organs from aborted babies.

The proceedings (which begin at 8 a.m. every day) in Courtroom 2 (Floor 17) of the San Francisco Federal District Court (450 Golden Gate Avenue) are being presided by Judge William H. Orrick (with a 12 member jury) in twin civil lawsuits from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, et al vs. CMP, et al and National Abortion Federation vs. CMP, et al.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, at the behest of Planned Parenthood, is prosecuting both Daleiden and Merritt with 15 felony charges, all stemming from the California videotaping what Planned Parenthood claims was “confidential” communications though the conversations recorded took place in open, public areas, where numerous people could and did overheard.  Previously, the case had been represented on behalf of Planned Parenthood by former California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senator and candidate for President.

A California superior court presided by Judge Christopher Hite had dismissed (June, 2017) 14 of 15 felony charges (because of what was deemed the lack of more specific facts) against the video journalists who exposed alleged profiteering from the sale of body parts of aborted babies within Planned Parenthood and its partners in the biomedical procurement industry.  However, the California superior court said the charges could be amended and taken up again.

Becerra’s office alleged that Daleiden and Merritt recorded 14 individuals connected to the abortion and fetal tissue industries in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco and El Dorado without their consent.

Daleiden’s response after the superior court decision:  “This is a politically motivated prosecution.  And this is discriminatory against pro-life Americans and a rally against Californians who happen to have a different point of view.”

However, Becerra said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.  The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s constitution and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial board rebutted Becerra’s actions:  “It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statue to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be.  Planned Parenthood and biomedical company StemExpress, which was also featured in the videos, have another remedy for the harm that was done to them:  They can sue Daleiden and Merritt for damages.  The state doesn’t need to threaten the pair with prison time.”

OpenSecrets.org reported that Becerra received a total of $5,535 from Planned Parenthood during his congressional election bids between 1998 and 2014.  Harris received $2,600 in 2016 from Planned Parenthood for her Senate race campaign and was the recipient of $39,855 from the Abortion Policy/Pro-Abortion Rights lobby group.   ElectionTrack.com reported that Harris received $15,000 from Planned Parenthood for her attorney general campaign bids.

The San Francisco Federal Court case is presided by Judge William Orrick III, who helped open, run and fund a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco for many years.   This clinic is part of Planned Parenthood Northern California, one of the named Plaintiffs suing the Center for Medical Progress and one of the Planned Parenthood affiliates currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for selling aborted fetal parts to StemExpress.  Judge Orrick was also the judge that issued a gag order suppressing the release of CMP’s remaining undercover footage of Planned Parenthood leadership four years ago.

The Center for Medical Progress and David Daleiden are represented in the civil lawsuits by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, the Thomas More Society, the Dhillon Law Group.  The lead attorneys for Daleiden are: Steve Cooley, three-times elected District Attorney of Los Angele County, Brent Fereira, former LA County Deputy District Attorney, Harmeet Dhillion, and Charles LiMandri.

Horatio Mihet of Liberty Counsel is representing Sandra Merritt and Paul Jonna is representing CMP undercover investigator Adrian Lopez.  The American Center for Law and Justice is representing Troy Newman, a former CMP board member.

“What this case is really about is the story of what happens when a powerful, large corporation gets a little negative publicity that it doesn’t like and responds by hitting back at a small start-up company and a handful of individuals, who are after the defendants in this case,” said Harmeet Dhillion.

“This case is about undercover reporting, the First Amendment, the rights of ordinary citizens to expose unethical and potentially illegal conduct on the part of large and powerful corporations,” said Paul Jonna.

Some highlights of the court trial:

  • 3: Judge Orrick’s instructions on the case:  “is not about the truth of whether plaintiffs profited from the sale of fetal tissue or otherwise violated the law in securing tissue for those programs.  Those issues are a matter of dispute between the parties in the world outside this courtroom.”
  • 8: Judge Orrick  refuses to allow the Defense to show the jury the exact video conversations that Planned Parenthood is suing for.   It is the jury’s job to asses whether the conversations are “private” or “confidential” under applicable state law.  While the witness could not play video of the actual conversations, Planned Parenthood was allowed to play multiple recordings of undercover conversations during their questioning.

(Editor’s Note:  To see two of the contested undercover videos go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkBIWjoV-Oo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LPlHjP1DVw).

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected]


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