Court rul­ing fa­vors abor­tion foes

Judge in S.F. tosses in­va­sion-of-pri­vacy charges against ac­tivists who shot se­cret videos

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Bob Egelko

A San Fran­cisco judge dis­missed 14 in­va­sion-of-pri­vacy charges Wed­nes­day against two an­tiabor­tion ac­tivists who at­tended na­tional meet­ings of abor­tion providers, pos­ing as fe­tal re­searchers, and se­cretly recorded con­ver­sa­tions with the par­tic­i­pants.

Su­pe­rior Court Judge Christo­pher Hite re­fused, how­ever, to dis­miss con­spir­acy charges against the pair, based on the same video record­ings, and de­nied a de­fense re­quest to make the videos public. State At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra’s of­fice, which filed the charges, said it can sat­isfy Hite’s ob­jec­tions and get the 14 charges re­in­stated.

David Dalei­den, leader of the an­tiabor­tion Cen­ter for Med­i­cal Progress, and an em­ployee of the group, San­dra Mer­ritt, made the record­ings at the con­ven­tions of the Na­tional Abor­tion Fed­er­a­tion in San Fran­cisco in 2014 and in Bal­ti­more in 2015.

They said after­ward that they had been act­ing as in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists to ex­pose al­leged plots by Planned Par­ent­hood and other abor­tion providers to sell fe­tal parts. Lawyers for the abor­tion fed­er­a­tion say its mem­bers were sub­jected to

ha­rass­ment and threats af­ter Dalei­den’s group posted edited ver­sions of the record­ings on­line.

Be­cerra’s of­fice charged Dalei­den and Mer­ritt with vi­o­lat­ing a Cal­i­for­nia law against record­ing con­ver­sa­tions with­out con­sent. In a separate case, a fed­eral judge in San Fran­cisco is­sued an or­der last year pro­hibit­ing Dalei­den and his group from mak­ing the record­ings public, and has said he may hold Dalei­den’s lawyers in con­tempt of court for post­ing links to many of the record­ings last month.

In Hite’s court, lawyers for Dalei­den and Mer­ritt ar­gued that their abil­ity to put on a de­fense was un­fairly hob­bled be­cause the charges stated only the date of each record­ing and did not name the per­son recorded or spec­ify which of the hun­dreds of videos was the sub­ject of the charge.

Pros­e­cu­tors said they had pro­vided the names to de­fense lawyers un­der a court or­der to keep them con­fi­den­tial. But Hite ruled that the charges were still too vague and must spec­ify each of the 14 record­ings that were al­legedly made with­out con­sent.

He said no such speci­ficity was re­quired, how­ever, for the charge of con­spir­ing to vi­o­late abor­tion providers’ rights by sur­rep­ti­tiously record­ing them.

The rul­ing was nev­er­the­less a “huge vic­tory,” said Mat Staver, chair­man of Lib­erty Coun­sel, a non­profit re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents Mer­ritt. He pre­dicted the con­spir­acy charge would also fail and said the pros­e­cu­tion was a threat to “every jour­nal­ist who pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion to the public.”

Be­cerra’s of­fice, in a state­ment, said it has been given 10 days to spec­ify the record­ings on which each charge was based “and will be mak­ing the re­quested changes.”

David Dalei­den, left, and San­dra Mer­ritt are accused of con­spir­ing to vi­o­late the rights of abor­tion providers.

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