Five of 14 felony standing charges were dropped against a citizen journalist who secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood in an attempt to expose the organization’s alleged wrongdoing.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite discharged five counts against David Daleiden on Friday, according to court papers.
Hite’s order leaves nine of the original 15 felony counts against him to proceed to trial.
An additional felony count was dropped previously, according to a press release issued by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that is representing Daleiden.
Daleiden, who heads the Center for Medical Progress, and his co-defendant Sandra Merritt were charged with 14 counts of recording a confidential communication without the other party’s consent, a violation of state Penal Code section 632(a).
They also faced one count of conspiracy to violate section 632(a).
Hite found that an “absence of probable cause to establish” that Daleiden’s recordings constituted “confidential communications” as defined by the statute.
Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen, who has been leading the firm’s defense of Daleiden, reacted to Hite’s decision.
“We are very pleased by the decision to throw out another five felony charges against David Daleiden. As to the remaining counts, we have strong defenses that we intend to vigorously pursue on appeal, until every last one of these specious felony charges are thrown out of court,” he said in a press release.
“Mr. Daleiden followed the same commonly accepted practices, including videotaping in public places, of other undercover journalists. David Daleiden is being charged as a criminal for openly delivering information that the public has a right to know, information that the abortion lobby and its financially supported elected officials would rather keep hidden. This prosecution by the State of California is an abuse of the justice system, and we are confident we will totally vindicate David in the end,” Breen added.
By posing as human tissue procurers for a fake company called BioMax, Daleiden and Merrit from 2013 to 2015 infiltrated a number of abortion conferences as well as Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics in Texas and Colorado. The activists captured conversations between abortion doctors and staff and later posted them online.
David Daleiden loses in federal court
Daleiden’s attorneys argued in federal court that he and Merritt were acting as citizen journalists. According to the lawyers, the activists believed “violent felonies” were being committed against babies who were born alive at Planned Parenthood clinics and that the organization was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.
Planned Parenthood’s attorneys claimed the release of the videos was part of a sophisticated scheme to smear the organization and strip it of federal funding.
Last month, after just over three days of deliberation, the jury found Daleiden and his group conspired to commit fraud, breach of contract and trespass and to violate federal and state recording laws in Maryland, California and Florida. The jury also awarded Planned Parenthood and several affiliates $478,000 in compensation for security costs and changes to their vetting procedures. The damages could total as much as $2.3 million.
The jury of nine men and one woman found that Daleiden and Merritt caused the abortion provider “substantial harm” with their videos.
Daleiden’s attorneys have from the beginning said the trial was biased against them. Breen said they will challenge the ruling on First Amendment grounds.
No First Amendment allowed
During the six week trial, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III barred jurors from taking into account any information uncovered by the activists that could retroactively justify their actions. He also told them not to consider the First Amendment as a defense.
“The First Amendment is not a defense to the claims in this case for the jury to consider,” Orrick wrote ahead of trial. “Defendants’ argument that they were citizen journalists was admissible as context for the defendants’ case, not as a legal defense.”
When the Center for Medical Progress released its videos in 2015, they bolstered conservative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The organization was forced to apologize over a clip of one of its officials joking about shipping fetal skulls to researchers for a fee.
Abortion opponents claimed that the videos revealed that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the illegal sale of body parts. The organization has denied the charge, and investigations by thirteen states did not support the claim. A federal investigation has so far yielded no findings.
Planned Parenthood said in a statement that Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress had “intentionally waged a multiyear illegal effort to manufacture a malicious campaign.” The organization added that “the jury recognized today that those behind the campaign broke the law in order to advance their goals of banning safe, legal abortion in this country.”
MLK said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Today’s ruling threatens First Amendment rights of all Americans. Now more than ever we ask you to join us in fighting injustice coming out of San Francisco’s Federal Court. We will appeal! https://t.co/RAtSNYm11F
— CMP (@CtrMedProgress) November 15, 2019
The Center for Medical Progress said on Twitter that the verdict set “a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country.”