SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has ordered more than $136,000 in fines after the release of several undercover videos in a series that appeared to implicate Planned Parenthood officials and the National Abortion Federation in the illegal sale of unborn baby body parts.
U.S. district Judge William Orrick III on Monday sanctioned David Daleiden, his Center for Medical Progress and his criminal defense lawyers for disclosing videos whose release was barred by his February 2016 preliminary injunction. The judge said each of the parties was jointly liable for security and legal costs for the National Abortion Federation, the subject of the videos.
The lawyers said they would appeal the ruling.
The Center for Medical Progress contended that the contempt charge against the attorneys was “just for trying to use the same video evidence in his defense that the California attorney general is using in his prosecution.” In a July 11 Facebook post, the center charged that the action would hinder efforts to provide a fair trial for Daleiden. The center also cited Daleiden’s attorneys’ ongoing efforts to disqualify the judge for alleged bias and links to Planned Parenthood.
The first investigative video release took place in July 2015, appearing to implicate Planned Parenthood in illegal activity and adding to the momentum to defund the United States’ largest performer of abortions.
In 2016, Judge Orrick had granted an injunction barring disclosure of the videos involving two National Abortion Federation meetings in Baltimore and San Francisco that the center’s investigators, including Daleiden, had surreptitiously recorded while posing as fetal-tissue purchasers for a non-existent medical supply company.
However, Daleiden's lawyers, former Los Angeles prosecutor Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira, posted the videos to their website in May of this year. The release included preview footage of convention attendees casually discussing the skulls, eyeballs and other baby body parts they encounter in abortion procedures.
“An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that is gross!” one panelist said in the video, to laughter from the crowd.
Planned Parenthood employees also appeared in the footage discussing baby organs that could be provided to biotech firms for money.
“They’re wanting livers,” one abortion provider said. “Sometimes she’ll tell me she wants brain,” another medical director said.
The footage also appears to show a person acknowledging the performance of illegal partial-birth abortions.
The videos had been uploaded to a private YouTube account and were not viewable without a link. One of Daleiden’s attorneys argued that this meant the posting itself was not a violation of the court order. Judge Orrick disagreed, saying that the enjoined materials were shared with a third party, namely YouTube.
The judge said he believed Daleiden had created the preview video and playlist, uploaded it, and forwarded the links to his criminal attorneys “for their use on his behalf.” He said it was reasonable to conclude the videos were uploaded “for the purpose of facilitating the publishing and distribution of those videos, which is what in fact occurred.”
When the videos initially became public, a spokesperson for the attorneys told National Review that the footage was entered into the public record when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Read filed a public criminal proceeding based on it.
Judge Orrick, however, said the lawyers failed to explain why the links to the videos needed to be published when the California state court judge had a thumb drive with the files, Courthouse News Service reports.
Defending themselves against the contempt charges, the attorneys had told Judge Orrick they aimed to use the videos to help defend their client against 15 felony charges he faced in California state court. They had believed the injunction did not apply to them. The judge said that under federal court rules an injunction also applies to attorneys, Bay City News reports.
The National Abortion Federation had accused Daleiden of creating a three-minute “preview” that identified abortionists by name, called them “evil,” “a baby killer” and “a systematic murderer.” The video asked viewers to share the video to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for “their illegal sale of baby parts.”
Judge Orrick’s ruling sided with the abortion federation, saying that Daleiden had failed to rebut the evidence against him by showing “deafening silence” and refusing to answer questions in his defense. Rather, he cited attorney-client privilege.
The judge said that in his review of the videos he found no evidence that abortion providers agreed to illegally sell fetal tissue, as alleged.
He ordered Daledein and the Center for Medical Progress to turn over all video of the federation’s meetings to the attorneys representing him in the civil lawsuit against him.
In June, a California court dismissed 14 of 15 felony charges against Daledein and co-defendant Sandra Merritt involving illegal recording of confidential communications for their videos of Planned Parenthood employees, not the abortion federation.
The California attorney general is seeking to reinstate the charges.
In the federal case, Daleiden’s attorneys filed a June 7 motion to disqualify Judge Orrick, claiming the judge was biased in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant.
The motion cited an affidavit by Daleiden citing the judge’s role as an emeritus board member for a family resource center linked to a Planned Parenthood affiliate that is part of the National Abortion Federation.
Daleiden also cited the social-media behavior of the judge’s wife, such as expressions of support for Planned Parenthood in the face of the videos. She also appeared to support stories critical of the Center for Media Progress and Daleiden. The judge’s wife had liked a post on the Facebook page “Keep America Pro-Choice” that supported the Harris County, Texas, indictment of Daleiden.
The videos provoked a massive response from Planned Parenthood and its allies. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Societies Foundation, published after the foundation’s computer system was hacked, revealed apparent plans for a $7- to $8-million response campaign.