Trio found in contempt after anti-abortion videos

An anti-abortion activist, his organization and two lawyers were found in contempt of court by a federal judge in San Francisco Monday and ordered to pay at least $137,000 for posting secret videos of abortion provider meetings.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that David Daleiden, the Center for Medical Progress, and attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira “willfully violated the clear commands” of a preliminary injunction the judge issued last year.

The injunction prohibits Daleiden and the center from disclosing videos that Daleiden and associates secretly made at annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation in San Francisco and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015.

Daleiden and colleagues created a phony medical supply company and posed as tissue buyers in order to infiltrate the meetings and secretly record conversations with doctors and other providers.

Orrick issued the injunction in a civil case in which the National Abortion Federation is suing Daleiden and the center on claims of violation of a confidentiality contract, racketeering, fraud, trespass and invasion of privacy.

Cooley and Ferreira are representing Daleiden in a separate criminal case in San Francisco Superior Court in which state prosecutors are accusing him and associate Sandra Merritt of violating a California law that prohibits recording conversations without the consent of all parties. That case concerns recordings at the San Francisco meeting and elsewhere in California.

Orrick wrote in a 24-page contempt order that Daleiden and the center violated the injunction by uploading videos from both NAF meetings to the center’s YouTube channel and making them available to other websites beginning around midnight on May 25.

Cooley, who is a former Los Angeles district attorney, and Ferreira violated the injunction by making links to the materials public on their law firm website later in the morning of May 25, Orrick said.

The attorneys later said they thought the injunction didn’t apply to them and that they wanted to promote a vigorous criminal defense of Daleiden.

But Orrick said they were subject to the measure because under federal court rules an injunction applies to the agents and attorneys of the person named.

“The preliminary injunction expressly covered Daleiden, and Cooley and Ferreira were at all times working as his agents… They decided to publicly disclose the materials with full knowledge of the existence of the preliminary injunction binding their client and them,” Orrick wrote.

The materials included 144 hours of footage from the NAF Baltimore and San Francisco meetings, two hours of excerpts showing the identities of several providers, and a 3-minute “preview” tape that the NAF claims is edited in a misleading way.

After learning of the disclosure from the NAF, Orrick on the afternoon of May 25 ordered the videos taken down and scheduled a civil contempt of court hearing.

The NAF said the release of the videos triggered a firestorm of threats and harassment of its members.

The $137,000 penalty includes payments to NAF and its members for staff time, increased security costs and lawyers. The attorneys’ fees amounted to $96,000 as of June 1 and could rise. Cooley, Ferreira, Daleiden and the center are jointly responsible for paying the penalty.

Orrick said that if there are further violations, he will consider heavier sanctions and possible criminal contempt of court.

At a hearing on the civil contempt motion last week, he also ordered Daleiden and the center to surrender all their recordings to their lawyers, and to view them only in the presence of their lawyers.

The Center for Medical Progress said in a statement that Orrick’s contempt order “is an unprecedented attack on David Daleiden’s rights as a defendant in a state criminal case.” NAF President Vicki Saporta said, “Daleiden used his criminal attorneys to circumvent our court order.

“It’s critical to the safety and security of our members that the judge take these protected materials away from Daleiden and hold him and his attorneys accountable for their blatant violations of our preliminary injunction,” she said.

Also today, Daleiden and Merritt appeared before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite on the criminal charges, but delayed entering pleas.

They are accused of 14 counts of violating the anti-eavesdropping law and one count of conspiring to do so.

Hite dismissed all charges except the conspiracy count on June 21 on the ground that they were not specific enough, and prosecutors refilled the charges on June 30 with more details.

Ferreira said Daleiden will challenge the revised charges.

Merritt’s lawyer said his client will seek dismissal on the ground that her case number was not shown on the revised charges and the deadline for refiling has now passed. The next hearing before Hite is Aug. 24.