The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held an oral argument hearing recently in the multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against pro-life advocates David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for their undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of aborted baby parts.
During the hearing, Liberty Counsel presented evidence that the appeals court should reverse the lower court’s ruling, order a new trial and strike the punitive damages award.
Sandra Merritt and colleague David Daleiden, the founder of Center for Medical Progress (CMP), produced videos in 2015 exposing Planned Parenthood’s illegal trade in aborted baby body parts after a 30-month undercover operation. The videos showed Planned Parenthood executives haggling over prices of aborted baby body parts and discussing how they change abortion procedures to obtain more intact organs and they received nationwide attention.
Throughout the previous six-week trial that began on October 2, 2019, the U.S. District Court severely restricted the evidence, and at the end, gave instructions to the jury on how they should rule on critical issues. The jury decided in favor of the abortion giant on each count, including RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), and awarded more than $2 million in damages. The court subsequently awarded Planned Parenthood nearly $14 million in attorney’s fees and costs, for a total judgment of over $16 million.
During the hearing, the three-judge panel questioned Planned Parenthood counsel about how the abortion organization could validate the claim for using RICO.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that RICO cannot be used against free speech. The judges also asked Planned Parenthood counsel about its claims that Merritt and Daleiden actually “trespassed” on various properties to meet with abortionists when they were actually granted consent. Also, the panel pressed the attorney on how Planned Parenthood could claim “damages” such as “security expenses” as a result of media exposure from the release of the undercover videos.
In conjunction with three other groups of defendants, Merritt brought to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals numerous errors of the trial court, including: (1) the award to Planned Parenthood of millions of dollars in “damages” involving publication of Planned Parenthood’s own words, without any proof that the undercover videos were false or deceptive, in violation of the First Amendment; (2) the use of RICO to punish constitutionally protected undercover journalism intended to expose unethical and criminal wrongdoing; (3) the award to Planned Parenthood of “damages” involving legally recorded conversations without allowing the jury to hear those conversations, and without requiring Planned Parenthood to prove that the conversations recorded in public places were “confidential;” and (4) the failure of the district court judge to recuse himself from this case, despite the appearance of impropriety resulting from his connections to Planned Parenthood.
Liberty Counsel will participate in a status hearing on Monday with Judge Hite in the San Francisco Superior Court to set a date for a trial in the criminal case.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Sandra Merritt was denied a fair trial and has been waiting a long time to be vindicated. Planned Parenthood failed to present clear and convincing evidence that Sandra acted with actual malice or intentional misconduct. The record of errors now before the Court of Appeals demands that the unjust result be set aside. Sandra did nothing wrong. She only revealed the truth of what the abortion giant is doing to precious unborn children. The ruling by the lower court judge ignores the First Amendment right to investigate and report.”