Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
SAN FRANCISCO—David Daleiden, the Center for Medical Progress and four co-defendants were found guilty in a civil trial and face actual and punitive damages totaling $2.2 million, his lawyers at the Thomas More Society confirmed this afternoon.
“This lawsuit is payback for David Daleiden exposing Planned Parenthood’s dirty business of buying and selling fetal parts and organs,” said lead Thomas More Society defense attorney Peter Breen in a statement after the verdict was announced at the San Francisco courthouse.
“We intend to seek vindication for David on appeal. His investigation into criminal activity by America’s largest abortion provider utilized standard investigative journalism techniques, those applied regularly by news outlets across the country.”
“David’s findings revealed practices so abhorrent that the United States Congress issued criminal referrals for Planned Parenthood, and numerous states and elected officials have moved to strip it of funding,” added Breen. “Rather than face up to its heinous doings, Planned Parenthood chose to persecute the person who exposed it. I am fully confident that when this case has run its course, justice will prevail, and David will be vindicated.”
In the civil trial, Planned Parenthood lawyers argued that Daleiden and his co-defendants had caused the nation’s largest abortion provider harm by secretly taping conversations with staff, and infiltrating conferences and facilities under false identities. The jury agreed and awarded the plaintiffs damages of $870,000 for trespass, fraud, breach of contract and illegal recording.
Catherine Short, legal counsel for co-defendant Albin Rhomberg and the legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, told the Register that a verdict under the federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) allowed the judge to triple the damages awarded Planned Parenthood. Short expressed shock at the outcome.
“The jury did not listen to anything we were saying. It was 100% percent liability for everyone for everything. It was clear at some point that they decided to go with a broad brush and not go with the details.”
Before the jury of nine men and one woman was sequestered, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III stated the defendants were guilty of trespass and the only question was the amount of damages to be assessed.
The jury deliberated for less than two days, after a six-week trial.
“This is a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country, sending a message that speaking truth and facts to criticize the powerful is no longer protected by our institutions,” said the Center for Medical Progress.
The decision is expected to be appealed.
Daleiden and co-defendant Sandra Merritt have also been charged with 15 felony counts for violating California statutes that bar recording under certain conditions. A state superior court must still rule on whether there is enough evidence to move forward with the criminal prosecution.
When asked how quickly the defendants could appeal the verdict, Short said the judge must first decide whether Daleiden should be prohibited from engaging in any secret recordings on entering Planned Parenthood conferences in the future.
As for the criminal trial, she said the defendants’ lawyers are expecting a decision from the superior court judge on whether all the charges will go forward by Dec. 6.
This article was updated Nov. 18, 2019.