California files more charges against antiabortion activists
State prosecutors have filed new, more specific invasion-of-privacy charges against two antiabortion activists for secretly recording conversations at national meetings of abortion providers, after a San Francisco judge dismissed most of the initial charges.
David Daleiden, leader of a group called the Center for Medical Progress, and an employee, Sandra Merritt, posed as fetal researchers to gain entry to the conventions of the National Abortion Federation in San Francisco in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015.
The two said afterward 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 death threats after Daleiden’s group posted edited versions of the recordings online.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office charged Daleiden and Merritt in March with 14 counts of violating a California law against recording conversations without consent, in incidents at the San Francisco convention and meetings elsewhere in the state.
Last month, Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite dismissed the charges, saying prosecutors had failed to specify which video recordings were made illegally. He refused, however, to dismiss a charge that the pair conspired to violate privacy rights.
Becerra’s office has now refiled the charges, with numerical identifications for each video. Prosecutors say they have given defense lawyers the names of each person whose conversation was recorded, under court orders to keep the names confidential.
But a lawyer for Merritt said Friday he will challenge the refiled charges because they’re still not specific enough.
The new set of allegations “lists videos generally but doesn’t list specific conversations on those videos, so it’s hard to know what conversations they’re referring to,” said Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious nonprofit law firm.
Staver said Merritt would again seek dismissal of the charges when she and Daleiden are arraigned July 17. A lawyer for Daleiden did not respond to a request for comment.
In a separate case, U.S. District Judge William Orrick of San Francisco has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on whether to hold Daleiden and his lawyers in contempt of court for posting links to many of the recordings in May.
Orrick had issued an injunction last year prohibiting Daleiden and his group from making the recordings public. His attorneys in the criminal case have said they obtained the material as evidence from prosecutors and did not know they were forbidden to release it.
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