Lawyers say that obvious pro-abortion bias by the federal judge who oversaw the civil trial for David Daleiden and his colleagues gives them plenty of grounds for appeal. On Friday, a federal jury ruled that Daleiden, Sandra Merritt, and others associated with the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) must pay up to $2.3 million in damages to Planned Parenthood for secretly recording the abortion giant’s associates talking about harvesting and selling aborted baby parts.
Led by Daleiden, CMP conducted a 30-month investigation using hidden cameras that exposed atrocities against unborn babies, including pricing body parts and altering abortion procedures to get the best possible specimens for research. The videos sparked several congressional investigations and fueled federal and state efforts to deprive Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars and curb the fetal tissue trafficking market.
After a six-week civil trial in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge William Orrick, who has known ties to Planned Parenthood, ordered jurors to pronounce Daleiden and his associates liable for trespassing, fraud, clandestine recording, and racketeering, along with breaking confidentiality agreements. The jury only had to decide the amount of damages, which came to $470,000 in actual damages—which could be tripled under federal law—and $870,000 in punitive damages.
CMP claimed throughout the trial that Daleiden and his colleagues had performed allowable investigative journalism. Afterward, the group characterized the verdict as “rigged.” From the onset of the civil trial, Orrick precluded defense witnesses, cut off lines of questioning, and prevented jurors from seeing most of CMP’s videos. He also ruled against jurors considering the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its freedom of speech protections as a defense.
Daleiden’s lawyer, Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Society, said those factors give the defense a strong case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and at the U.S. Supreme Court, if needed: “What David and his team did was find a way to discover and publish the truth. … This ruling is a blow to any concept of undercover journalism.”
During the trial, Daleiden testified that an ABC News 20/20 report on fetal tissue trafficking, with footage from an undercover producer posing as a potential investor and interviewing an abortionist, inspired his investigation.
“This is a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country, sending a message that speaking truth and facts criticizing the powerful is no longer protected by our institutions,” Daleiden said.
The verdict drew a swift rebuke from pro-life advocates. Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser called it “profoundly unjust,” and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, labeled it “outrageous.”
“The level of protections [Planned Parenthood] receives from any accountability, any oversight, any consequences for illegal behavior is stunning,” John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, tweeted.
Daleiden’s lawyers pointed out that Planned Parenthood has never sued him, CMP, or other parties for defaming them with false statements. Planned Parenthood’s witnesses admitted in court that the videos were accurate despite telling the media they were heavily edited.
Also on Friday, a panel of 9th Circuit judges refused to change Orrick’s 2016 order blocking any further publication of videos by CMP. The panel cited the National Abortion Federation’s report of violence and disruption stemming from the videos and the ongoing criminal proceedings against the defendants.
In a separate criminal case, Daleiden and Merritt are set to go on trial on Dec. 6 in a court in San Francisco on 14 counts each of invasion of privacy. They have pleaded not guilty on the grounds that they are undercover journalists protected from prosecution.