A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Monday said he would allow the names of 14 abortion rights workers who were allegedly secretly recorded in 2015 by two anti-abortion activists to be kept private in court filings. The activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, face 15 felony counts each for filming conversations with the workers during annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation in San Francisco and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015.
State prosecutors filed the charges and have alleged the recordings were done in secret in an attempt to prove that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue.
Daleiden and Merritt pleaded not guilty in the case.
Judge Christopher Hite ruled that the names of those recorded should be redacted in court filings after Deputy Attorney General Johnette Jauron argued that if made public, the workers’ safety could be put in jeopardy.
Hite did not make a decision on two other motions, one to keep the recorded videos private when shown in court and another on whether Planned Parenthood can join the lawsuit against Merritt and Daleiden. Outside of court, Daleiden’s attorney Brent Ferreira said, “This case is just a mess. It’s not a case. It’s a political vendetta.” Regarding Jauron’s claim about the workers’ safety being in jeopardy, Peter Breen, also Daleiden’s attorney, called the claim “disingenuous.”
“These folks are already public… You can go and Google these folks, if you knew their names. You’d see them talking to the New York Times, you’d see them talking to the Washington Post, going out and being proud on social media; so that’s not the issue here,” he said.
Regarding the motion to keep the recorded videos under seal, Merritt’s attorney Horatio Mihet said, “The only reason why the attorney general is wanting to have these videos sealed and kept from the public eye is because the videos themselves provide damning evidence that these conversations, these allegedly confidential conversations, were in fact not confidential.
“That being the case, the attorney general has no choice but to try to convict our clients based on secret evidence. And that’s what we’re talking about here; is an attorney general who is trying to use the power of the state of California to hold a secret trial based on secret evidence and to send American citizens to jail for evidence that no one else can see. That is unconscionable and not something that can happen in a free country,” he said.
In 2017, in a separate civil lawsuit in federal court filed by the National Abortion Federation against Daleiden and The Center for Medical Progress on claims of violation of a confidentiality contract, racketeering, fraud, trespass and invasion of privacy, U.S. District Judge William Orrick found Daleiden, the center and his attorneys, Ferreira and Steve Cooley, in contempt of court for posting the videos to a website. Orrick ordered them to pay a $137,000 penalty.
Since the criminal charges were first filed, Planned Parenthood officials have maintained that the organization did not engage in unlawful activity.
A preliminary hearing for the case against Daleiden and Merritt has been set for April 22.