Civil Case Against Abortion Foes Now in the Hands of a Jury

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A jury of nine men and one woman began deliberations Wednesday afternoon over whether Planned Parenthood should be compensated by anti-abortion activists who infiltrated their ranks and recorded abortion doctors and staff.

Planned Parenthood is seeking roughly $630,000 in security costs and changes to their vetting procedures after David Daleiden, who heads the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, and his co-defendant Sandra Merritt posed as human tissue procurers as part of an undercover investigation into the organization.

Daleiden and Merritt believed Planned Parenthood was profiting from fetal tissue sales for medical researchers, which Planned Parenthood vehemently denies. Daleiden created the fake company called BioMax Procurement Services, and under the fake names Robert Sarkis and Susan Tennenbaum, the pair attended abortion industry conferences throughout 2013 and 2014 as exhibitors, where they secretly recorded conversations they later posted online. Daleiden also made recordings at abortion clinics in Texas and Colorado.

David Daleiden, an anti-abortion activist charged with invasion of privacy for filming attendees at National Abortion Federation conferences in California.

The videos of these conversations were posted online starting in July 2015, and Planned Parenthood sued Daleiden, Merritt, CMP and board members Troy Newman and Albin Rhomberg for a host of civil claims; including breach of contract, fraud, trespass, racketeering and violation of federal and state recording laws in California, Florida and Maryland.

Closing arguments in the case wrapped up on Wednesday. Daleiden’s lawyers told the jury that Planned Parenthood was to blame for allowing a fox into its henhouse, as it should not have assumed that everyone exhibiting at the abortion conferences were pro-abortion rights.

Harmeet Dhillon, one of the attorneys on Daleiden’s legal team, said Planned Parenthood was only interested in collecting money from its exhibitors, and didn’t bother to check the fake driver’s license Daleiden made to access the conferences.

“No one asked any of the defendants, ‘Are you pro-choice?’ It was their assumption, not something the defendants planted in them. They made a lot of assumptions based on what they wanted to believe,” she said. “They relied on their own trust and non-existing vetting system.”

She called Daleiden and his group “citizen journalists” who went undercover to expose fetal trafficking, and that Planned Parenthood sued because it was embarrassed by the videos.

On rebuttal, Planned Parenthood attorney Rhonda Trotter reminded the jury that Planned Parenthood had no duty to investigate Daleiden’s true identity and that it need only show that it reasonably relied on his misrepresentations.

She also explained why Planned Parenthood did not present any witnesses to refute Daleiden’s belief that abortion doctors were selling fetal tissue.

“There’s a reason Planned Parenthood didn’t present all the evidence challenging these claims,” she said. “That’s not what this case is about. What’s before you to decide in this case was whether there was anything wrongful about the strategies chosen and implemented by the defendants. It is not about the truth or falsity of whether Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue violated the law. It’s not about whether abortion is good or bad. Planned Parenthood absolutely disputes what defendants have presented in this case.”

She told the jury that Daleiden’s legal team focused on the contents of videos as a defense in the case “in a brazen attempt to distract you from what you are supposed to decide.”

Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Melvin Galloway testified during the six-week trial that the organization was used to opposition, mainly from blockades of protesters at its clinics. Daleiden’s project was something entirely new “that required a new response.” It spent more than $600,000 to provide targeted doctors with armed guards and for security consultants.

Attorney Catherine Short with the Life Legal Defense Fund mocked these expenditures, saying, “How many consultants does it take to screw in a lightbulb? It depends on the size of your budget.”

Planned Parenthood attorney Jeremy Kamras countered, “Planned Parenthood and its affiliates did what was responsible and necessary to guard its doctors and staff, to restore the safety and trust that these defendants had broken.”

The jury received the case Wednesday afternoon and broke for the day after roughly three hours of deliberations. They have already asked for playback of video deposition testimony from Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which will be played Thursday morning.

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