SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The defense in a racketeering and fraud case against anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt hit a snag Tuesday when Planned Parenthood attorneys refuted Merritt’s testimony about inadequate security at an abortion industry conference where she and Daleiden secretly recorded Planned Parenthood doctors.
Merritt was re-called to the stand to account for testifying this month that she was able to leave and enter meeting areas at the National Abortion Federation conference with her name badge in her purse, indicating the conference was not as secure and private as its attendees believed.
Daleiden runs the Center for Medical Progress, a group opposed to abortion. Posing as representatives of a phony fetal tissue procurement company called BioMax, he and Merritt infiltrated the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 meeting in San Francisco, where they covertly recorded conversations with abortion providers. They then released the videos as part of the CMP’s “Human Capital Project,” claiming to show certain abortion providers trying to sell fetal tissue and organs.
In January 2016, Planned Parenthood sued Daleiden, Merritt and the Center for Medical Progress, along with their associates Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg and Gerardo Adrian Lopez, on claims of fraud, breach of contract, unlawful recording of conversations, civil conspiracy and violation of federal anti-racketeering law.
Planned Parenthood seeks hundreds of thousands of dollars for damage to its brand and increased security costs resulting from the videos.
The health organization’s attorney Sharon Mayo grilled Merritt on Tuesday about her prior testimony, in which she said another Center for Medical Progress employee picked up Merritt’s badge for her, and that Merritt carried it around in her purse while at the conference. Merritt’s testimony contradicted the testimony of abortion doctors who said conference attendees were always required to show identification and wear their badges .
Insufficient security procedures have been an important facet of the defense’s case, as CMP’s attorneys have advanced the theory that the people recorded could not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Defense attorneys have argued that the conference was held in a public place, and that not everyone at the conference was properly vetted.
Mayo played the jury a long video clip that showed another CMP activist taking off her name badge and handing it to Merritt, who put it in her purse. On Oct. 4, Merritt had testified that this associate was able to pick up name badges for BioMax and “hand them out,” implying that the conference did not require attendees to pick up their own badges.
Merritt acknowledged the testimony was false, but her attorney Horatio Mihet ascribed the testimony as a “mistake,” attributable to the length of time that has passed since the conference took place and the fact that Merritt is now 66 years old with a failing memory.
“At your age how is your memory, six years out?” he asked.
“Poor,” Merritt said.
Mihet said Merritt relied on the videos themselves for her testimony, rather than her own memory, and that the video Merritt relied on when she testified on Oct. 4 was an abridged version that did not give accurate context to the situation.
“Were you trying to pull a fast one on Planned Parenthood, the court, and the jury?” Mihet asked.
“I was not,” Merritt said. “I think I was watching a video giving truthful testimony of what I was seeing. I know that’s what I was trying to do.”
Mayo was undeterred, asking Merritt why she didn’t tell the jury she had no recollection of the incident, rather than relying on shorter, less accurate video version of events. “You didn’t say ‘I don’t know,’ did you?” Mayo asked.
“It feels like you’re trying to catch me now,” Merritt said, looking uneasy on the stand.
Mayo said all Mihet and Merritt had to do was look at the full video of what happened to see that what Merritt said on Oct. 4 was not true, that she did not walk around the conference sans name badge without being stopped by security.
Mihet attempted to salvage Merritt’s credibility on cross.
“Is it apparent to you that you made a mistake?”
Merritt replied, “Yes.”
Mihet then asked, “And are you glad to have the opportunity to correct that mistake?”
In a flat tone, she answered, “Delighted.”
The trial is expected to run until at least Nov. 8.
Also on Tuesday, Dr. Mary Gatter, the former medical director for Planned Parenthood affiliates in Los Angeles and Pasadena, testified that she had lunch with Daleiden and Merritt to discuss working with BioMax to start a fetal tissue donation program.
She said a video released of that business meeting, which she assumed was private, was “edited to show the worst possible parts of the conversation.”
Mihet asked Gatter whether she expected Daleiden and Merritt, who she knew as Robert Sarkis and Susan Tennenbaum, would share the information they learned at the meeting with others.
“You didn't desire to confine the information at the lunch to the four individuals present, did you?”
Gatter said she expected information would be shared, but with other BioMax employees or colleagues in the medical research field.
“I didn't expect them to share it with the entire world.”Follow @MariaDinzeo
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