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Center for Medical Progress

Fifth Circuit does it again

Another terrible ruling by a terrible judge on a terrible court.

Right there with them

A federal appeals court has lifted a lower court order that blocked Texas from booting Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, potentially imperiling the health care provider’s participation in the federal-state health insurance program.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Sam Sparks, the federal district judge who preserved Planned Parenthood’s status in the program in February 2017, had used the wrong standard in his ruling. The appeals court sent the case back to him for further consideration.

The case stems from a long-running flap over a misleading video released in late 2015 by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which suggested that abortion providers at Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit. The sting video included edited clips of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of fetal tissue for research. A string of investigations that followed the video’s release were unable to confirm its claims, but it energized a crusade against the health care provider and sparked outrage from the state’s Republican leadership.

[…]

In February 2017, a federal judge in Austin ruled that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood could continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program. The state’s arguments, Sparks wrote in a 42-page ruling, were “the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program.”

But a panel on the conservative-leaning appeals court said Thursday that Sparks had used the wrong standard in his ruling, taking the arguments as a novel, or “de novo,” review and by “giving no deference” to the findings of the state agency that opted to expel Planned Parenthood in the first place. The Office of Inspector General, an arm of the state’s health and human services agency charged with rooting out fraud and abuse, claimed the videos “showed “that Planned Parenthood violated state and federal law.”

“OIG is the agency that the state of Texas has empowered to investigate and penalize Medicaid program violations. The agency is in the business of saying when providers are qualified and when they are not,” Judge Edith Jones wrote. “It is [odd] to claim that federal judges, who have no experience in the regulations and ethics applicable to Medicaid or medical practice, much less in regard to harvesting fetal organs for research, should claim superior expertise.”

See here for the background. Of course Edith Jones would insist that we have to take seriously the lying video of lying liars when it suits her agenda. She’s as predictable as the sunrise. Now we go back to district court and try again to knock down the bullshit. What an utter disgrace.

Video fraudsters in trouble again

In California this time.

Right there with them

California prosecutors on Tuesday charged two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood with 15 felonies, saying they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent.

The charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress come eight months after similar charges were dropped in Texas.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a longtime Congressional Democrat who took over the investigation in January, said in a statement that the state “will not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations.”

Prosecutors say Daleiden, of Davis, California, and Merritt, of San Jose, filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.

[…]

Daleiden and Merritt had previously been indicted in Texas on similar charges in January of 2016, but all of the charges were eventually dropped by July as prosecutors said a grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury had originally been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, but after finding no wrongdoing turned around and indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

The California charges stem from recording people without their knowledge, which is a crime in some states but not in others. The charges here were the result of creating phony drivers licenses to back up the aliases they used. The circumstances under which the Harris County indictments were dropped remain somewhat fishy, but I suppose it was just a matter of time before these two clowns got into trouble again. It’s what happens when everything you do is based on a lie. Think Progress, the Current, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who has a thorough and nuanced look at the California law in question, have more.

Texas cannot bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid

Good.

Right there with them

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday afternoon that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program, a phew-worthy victory for reproductive rights advocates and a loss for the state’s GOP leaders.

In a 42-page ruling, Sparks wrote that the state’s arguments in the case were “the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program.”

“After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause,” the ruling read. “Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.”

[…]

In court, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that not allowing the reproductive health provider to stay in the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government, would severely curb access to care for poor Texas men and women seeking preventive and sexual health services. The attorneys also argued that the state did not have the capacity to deliver these services in the same way Planned Parenthood does and reiterated that state and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion services.

State attorneys, meanwhile, leaned heavily on the web video throughout court proceedings, pointing out various clips as part of their evidence. While the video appeared to back up their claims, Planned Parenthood attorneys forced several of the state’s witnesses to concede that no employees were seen committing illegal acts in the undercover video.

Throughout the ruling, the phrase “no evidence” appears multiple times. Sparks said Texas Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. “did not have prima facie of evidence, or even a scintilla of evidence” for the termination. He cited that the Center for Medical Progress video, the evidence against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and dragging in other Planned Parenthood affiliates were “three overarching bases for termination.”

Sparks said that “for those not blessed with eight free hours to watch” the video, it mostly contained a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast employee and Center for Medical Progress representatives talking in “unclear and ambiguous dialogue” that was open to interpretation. He said the Texas Health and Human Services Commission did not provide evidence that they had authenticated the video before going forward with termination efforts.

While state attorneys tried to show that the reproductive health organization had “a willingness” to profit from procuring fetal tissue, Sparks said he did not find evidence of that.

“The Court is unconvinced mere willingness, without any evidence of attempt, is enough to deprive a Medicaid beneficiary of the right to her otherwise qualified provider,” the ruling read.

See here for the previous update. Shockingly, the fraudulent anti-PP videos made by the lying liars at the Center for Medical Progress turned out to have no evidentiary value for the state. Who’d a thunk it, am I right? I presume the state will appeal from here, and if the Trump scandal machine ever lets up enough to allow legislation to be passed by Congress, a federal bill could be passed to change the law that PP relied on here to get this action overturned. It’s a little premature to celebrate, is what I’m saying. Still, this is a big deal, and it’s always nice to see Ken Paxton lose in court. The Chron, the AusChron, and Trail Blazers have more.

Planned Parenthood still in Medicaid

For now, pending judgment.

Right there with them

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks on Thursday delayed Planned Parenthood’s ouster from the state’s Medicaid program until Feb. 21.

[…]

During closing arguments Thursday hearing, attorneys from both sides cited clips from the video. Sparks said he wanted all involved to review the video footage and present their findings to him Jan. 30.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to give an opinion [without further review of the video],” Sparks said.

During the final day of testimony, the state continued to make its case that Medicaid patients would still have access to health services without Planned Parenthood’s help.

Jami Snyder, associate commissioner for Medicaid and CHIP, said on the stand that there were 141,000 providers available in the program, including 29,000 primary care physicians and 3,300 OBGYNs. She said the program has “a very robust network” thanks to strict network adequacy requirements for the managed care organizations that help with Medicaid and patients have a variety of tools to help them find a new doctor. She said the available providers dwarf Planned Parenthood’s presence.

“What we know to be true is that a variety of providers in our network offer family planning services,” Snyder said.

But Planned Parenthood lawyers pressed Snyder on provider availability, forcing her to admit she was unsure if all of the Medicaid providers offer weekend hours or walk-in appointments like the reproductive health organization does. Snyder also admitted Medicaid providers do not necessarily offer the exact same services as Planned Parenthood.

Snyder also elicited gasps in the courtroom when she admitted she did not know about surging maternal mortality rates in Texas.

See here and here for the background. The video in question is of course the bullshit Center for Medical Progress video. Way to be on top of breaking women’s health news there, Jami Snyder! With skills like that I don’t know how you weren’t picked to head up HHS in Washington. Trail Blazers, the Current, Newsdesk, and the Chron have more.

Here we go again with Planned Parenthood and Medicaid

Rooting for another injunction.

Right there with them

Texas officials are back in federal court this week over abortion-related policy, this time to defend efforts to oust Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood has asked U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks to block the ouster as illegal, unjustified and unfair — an improperly political move that could deprive about 11,000 low-income Texans of access to contraceptives, cancer screening, breast exams and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

Lawyers for Texas argue that a 2015 video, shot by abortion opponents using a hidden camera, showed a pattern of “gross violations of medical and ethical standards” — as well as human decency — in the fetal tissue donation practices of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston.

“The state should not have to wait until it is too late before it can act to protect Medicaid recipients and taxpayers,” lawyers for Attorney General Ken Paxton told Sparks in a legal brief.

Sparks will hear three days of testimony beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in his Austin courtroom in a case with a tight deadline. Planned Parenthood is scheduled to be dropped from the Texas Medicaid program Saturday.

One option for the judge is a temporary order blocking the ouster — keeping the status quo until he can research and write an opinion.

That’s what Sparks did when abortion providers sued to block a state rule requiring clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages. After hearing two days of testimony earlier this month, Sparks promised a ruling by the end of next week.

No matter how Sparks rules — in either case — the losing side is expected to appeal, meaning it could be months before the fate of Planned Parenthood or the fetal burial rule is determined.

See here for the background. Yes, the state is actually using those utterly fraudulent Center for Medical Progress videos as evidence for tossing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid. This is basically the equivalent of arguing that because you found a dollar under your pillow this morning, the Tooth Fairy must really exist. I don’t think there’s anything one can add to that. The Trib has a first day of testimony report, and Trail Blazers and the Texas Standard have more.

Harris County DA drops charges against video fraudsters

Disappointing, to say the least.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Criminal charges against the anti-abortion activists behind undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were dismissed Tuesday.

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. A court clerk confirmed that the Harris County district attorney’s office filed the motion to dismiss the case against Daleiden and Merritt.

Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in a statement that Texas limits what can be investigated after a grand jury term gets extended, which happened in this case.

“In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments,” Anderson said.

The misdemeanor charge against Daleiden was dismissed by the judge in June. The defense had filed a motion back in April to dismiss the felony charges on the grounds that the grand jury had not been properly empaneled, and the fraudsters rejected a plea deal later in April. If you’re wondering why now, when there hadn’t yet been a hearing on the defense motions, the DA’s office decided to throw in the towel, you’re not alone.

The decision came as a surprise because the district attorney’s office had argued at length in a 30-page motion filed in May that the issue about the grand jury’s term was “meritless.”

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer said Tuesday’s decision was based on a political calculation by a Republican incumbent who has drawn criticism for pursuing the case. It also came just days after sharp criticism of the DA’s office in an unrelated case over the jailing of a mentally ill rape victim to ensure she would testify.

“I think it smacks of a politically expedient decision made from the highest levels of the office,” Schaffer said. “It was an easy out for a district attorney who had already received a lot of heat from her party over this case and had received a lot of heat this week for the handling of another case, one involving a rape victim.”

If prosecutors were concerned about a technical error over the grand jury extension, he said, they could have remedied it months ago by taking it to another grand jury. The district attorney’s office could still file charges, he noted.

“I do not think what happened in this case was based on law or the facts,” he said. “It was based on politics.”

[…]

The lawyers had scheduled a hearing before state District Judge Brock Thomas in which they were expected to argue the grand jurors were improperly empaneled longer than their standard three-month term, rendering any indictments null and void.

Instead of arguing the point, prosecutors agreed in a surprise move that the defense raised a “colorable claim” and dismissed all of the charges.

[…]

Political and legal observers said the dismissal is understandable given the amount of resources it would have taken to prosecute versus the likely outcome.

“If I were writing the prosecutorial memo, it seems like this case would be a whole lot of work that would, at best, end up with a slap on the wrist,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the newly named Houston College of Law. “There are bigger fish to fry in Houston.”

Corn said Anderson should not be criticized for using her discretion to dismiss a case that would expend county resources for a minor conviction.

“These were a couple of zealots who were overreaching and gaming the system,” he said. “DA’s have to make hard decisions about where to allocate resources. This seems to make sense to me.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I cannot evaluate the merits of the defense’s arguments or the reasons why the prosecution decided to buy into them. What Professor Corn says makes some sense, but one might ask why they didn’t make that calculation before taking this to a grand jury in the first place. It’s not like they couldn’t have seen this cost/benefit calculation coming from that vantage point. I can’t say what motivated Devon Anderson to change course now, but the timing of it sure is funny.

One more thing:

“The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Yep. This is the very definition of “getting off on a technicality”. Let us not lose sight of that. The Press and the Current have more.

Misdemeanor charge dropped against video fraudster Daleiden

Just the misdemeanor charge, not the felony.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County judge has dropped one of the criminal charges against an anti-abortion activist who was indicted after making undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility.

David Daleiden, one of the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with the very crime he tried to secretly catch Planned Parenthood committing — a misdemeanor charge for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue. But that charge was dismissed on Monday, according to the Harris County District Clerk website.

[…]

Daleiden’s team in April asked the judge to dismiss his indictments, alleging they were a result of improper proceedings by prosecutors and that the grand jury — originally asked to investigate Planned Parenthood, not the videographers — exceeded its authority.

In a statement Tuesday, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said the judge’s ruling was not based on Daleiden’s motion to quash the indictments.

“The basis for the judge’s ruling was not raised by the defense at any time,” Anderson said. “We do not intend to appeal the judge’s decision. Our office remains focused on the felony charge pending in the 338th District Court.”

See here and here for some background. The Press explains why the misdemeanor indictment for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue was tossed:

Judge Bull reasoned that the indictment was defective because prosecutors did not list an “exception” to the criminal charge—essentially, prosecutors didn’t list a few scenarios in which the defendants’ actions would in fact be legal. One of those exceptions that prosecutors failed to list? It just so happens to be the very defense that Planned Parenthood mounted against the radical right’s attacks: “reimbursement of expenses…incurred by the donor of a human organ in connection with the donation of the organ.”

Yes, because prosecutors didn’t write down that exception in the formal indictment, Judge Bull says the case is void.

I’m not particularly concerned about this. It’s the felony charges that matter, and those are still in place for both Daleiden and Merritt, who apparently has not yet made a decision about whether or not to accept the offer of probation from the DA. As long as Daleiden in particular goes down in a blaze of self-righteous baloney at the end of all this, I’m good. The Chron, the Observer, and Trail Blazers have more.

Video fraudsters to go to trial

All righty then.

Right there with them

Right there with them

David Robert Daleiden, 27, and his colleague, Sandra Susan Merritt, 63, both of California, have rejected a plea deal that would have effectively put an end to the criminal charges against them, their lawyers confirmed Friday.

“I don’t advise my clients to accept responsibility for cases that they haven’t done anything wrong in,” said Dan Cogdell, Merritt’s attorney.

The pair were charged in January with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to buy human organs.

After a brief status hearing Friday, attorneys said they will not accept offers of pretrial diversion, a low-level probation that would have allowed the charges against them to be dismissed if they did not break the law for a year. It’s commonly offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to first-time offenders with minor charges such as shoplifting.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Daleiden filed motions to quash the indictments against him, arguing that the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

See here and here for the background. The defense has alleged that DA Devon Anderson is in cahoots with Planned Parenthood, the defendants are utterly convinced of their righteousness and are prepared to martyr themselves for their cause. This will be…interesting. There’s no mention of a court date, so we’ll just have to be patient.

It’s a conspiracy!

Oh, noes! Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with the Harris County DA! Run for your lives!

The anti-abortion activist accused of falsifying records to secretly videotape Planned Parenthood officials in Houston is accusing the Harris County district attorney’s office of illegally colluding with the nonprofit.

The allegations were raised in court documents filed Thursday seeking to dismiss the charge against David Robert Daleiden, of Davis, Calif.

[…]

On Thursday, his attorneys filed motions to quash the indictments, saying the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

“The DA’s office has chosen to wage a war on the pro-life movement,” said attorney Jared Woodfill. “We believe there is clear evidence of Planned Parenthood actually colluding with and pushing the District Attorney’s office to move forward with these indictments.”

At a press conference on the courthouse steps that Daleiden did not attend, Woodfill and attorney Terry Yates said the indictments are “fatally flawed.”

The motions filed to quash the felony charge is here, and for the misdemeanor charge is here. I’ve read through the first one, and with the usual reminder that I Am Not A Lawyer, it looks to me like the bulk of the issue being taken is with the grand jury being held over:

The investigation of Planned Parenthood was brought before the 232nd grand jury [in] September [of 2015].

However, at the close of the 2015 term, no action had been taken in the investigation of Planned Parenthood. A grand jury “hold over” order was drafted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office and presented to the 232rd Court for entry on December 16, 2015. (Exhibit “B”). However, in that order, the prosecutor failed to specifically state or articulate any specific individual or case that the grand jury was holding over to investigate. The order recites boilerplate language set forth in Section 19.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; however, due to the lack of specificity required the order is deficient.

From there, they complain that evidence from the grand jury hearings was provided to lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, including video evidence that was supposed to be covered by a temporary restraining order, and that Daleiden’s lawyers were never notified that he had become a target of the investigation. They cite various mainstream media accounts published after Daleiden and Merritt were indicted as evidence of this.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys in attendance to comment on the claims made by Woodfill and Yates. My layman’s impression is that hold over grand juries are fairly routine – whether they need specific instructions about who or what is being investigated is not something I know – and as for the alleged collusion, I kind of have a hard time believing the lawyers involved, including the assistant DAs, would be that stupid if this was indeed something shady. I would also note that Tamara Tabo, who unlike me is a lawyer and who also unlike me opposes abortion, believes it is clear that Daleiden did indeed break the law. Which doesn’t mean that the indictments weren’t compromised and won’t be tossed, but it is worth keeping in mind. Woodfill and Yates aren’t arguing Daleiden isn’t guilty of anything, they’re arguing the process went bad. I can’t wait to see what the judge makes of this. The Trib, which supplied the defendant’s motions, and the Press have more.

More troubles for the Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said.

Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But the raid confirms that California is among the states looking into possible criminal activity on the part of Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, which have been the center of controversy since releasing videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for a profit.

[…]

The National Abortion Federation, a professional organization for abortion providers that was also targeted in Daleiden’s videos, lauded news of the raid.

“We fully support a thorough investigation into the activities perpetrated by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress,” president Vicki Saporta said in a statement. “As the evidence has shown in our case, he engaged in a long-running criminal conspiracy. His actions are not without consequences.”

Saporta said the videos have led to a spike in threats and violence against abortion clinics.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given all that’s been said and done so far, it’s hard not to see that surge in violence directed at the clinics as anything but a planned outcome. I’ll say again, I’m happy for Daleiden to martyr himself for this cause, as long as he really really gets to suffer for it. He’s earned every bit of retribution coming his way. It’s my further hope that the evidence that California authorities uncover can be used to help facilitate those consequences. Daily Kos, Politico, the Chron, and Kevin Drum have.

Local Planned Parenthood joins lawsuit against the video fraudsters

Good.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliate on Thursday moved to join a federal lawsuit filed in California against the anti-abortion group behind undercover videos of the organization’s clinics.

The lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco-based federal court in January, alleges the Center for Medical Progress engaged in conspiracy, fraud and other activities that violate organized crime law and other federal regulations in its pursuit of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood. Citing recordings of staff at a Houston clinic, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast filed to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

The recordings, released by the group last summer, depicted Planned Parenthood staff discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. The group alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an accusation the organization has vehemently denied.

The lawsuit against the group was first filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and seven California affiliates against the Center for Medical Progress, Biomax Procurement Services and several anti-abortion activists, including videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt.

See here for the background on the existing lawsuit, and here for a copy of the complaint. There’s another federal lawsuit against these clowns as well, plus a lawsuit by PP against the state over revocation of Medicaid funds. If these CMP idiots want to be martyrs for their cause, I hope the justice system helps them get there, one judgment (and conviction) at a time. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Federal judge smacks video fraudsters

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Right there with them

Right there with them

In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction ordering abortion opponents not to release videos they had secretly made at meetings of abortion providers, and he added that the opponents’ claims that such organizations were illegally selling fetal tissue were baseless.

In the ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of United States District Court in San Francisco also brushed aside claims by the abortion opponents that their use of fraudulent documents and violations of confidentiality agreements to infiltrate meetings of abortion providers were protected because they were journalists involved in what they described as an undercover investigation.

The ruling marked the second major setback in recent weeks for the anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress.

[…]

In his ruling, Judge Orrick said that his review of hundreds of hours of video secretly shot by the center at meetings of abortion providers found no evidence that any of them had violated the law. No one “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the Center for Medical Progress argued in the case that the First Amendment protected the group because its members were informing the public about abortion providers — a defense that Mr. Daleiden has also raised against the recent criminal charges.

But Judge Orrick said that the desire of the National Abortion Federation to have its members protected from unwarranted harassment was paramount. And he questioned whether Mr. Daleiden and his colleagues were involved in journalism.

He wrote that the group’s projects “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions.”

This lawsuit was filed last July; there was already a temporary restraining order barring the CMP from releasing videos, transcripts or other material from the meetings pending the judge’s review. There is a separate lawsuit filed last month by Planned Parenthood against the CMP as well. None of this has anything to do with the criminal case against the fraudsters, but the judge’s ruling does directly address their stated defense that they’re just journalists doing normal journalistic things. I feel confident that ruling will be given a careful reading by the Harris County DA’s office. It’s also a reminder that these guys are lying liars who have lied about pretty much everything so far, and while a strategy of lying can score some political points, it generally won’t get you very far in court. In a more decent society, people who had previously sided with these guys would be backing away from them now, not wanting to have their own credibility tainted by association with them. You can draw your own conclusions as to why Texas Republicans like Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton have not done so.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

How the tables got turned on the video fraudsters

A must read.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome.

From the start, Planned Parenthood and its Houston lawyer Josh Schaffer settled on a strategy of cooperating with investigators, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for the affiliate. It included volunteering documents and encouraging prosecutors to interview employees, as well as giving prosecutors tours of the Houston facility, according to Schaffer.

“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Schaffer told Reuters in an interview.

Schaffer was retained by Planned Parenthood last summer when Texas officials demanded it face a criminal investigation after the anti-abortion activists posted videos online purporting to show the organization’s employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.

[…]

Although what happened during the grand jury’s secret deliberations may never be known, Schaffer said it did not vote on whether to indict Planned Parenthood.

That is because the grand jury’s focus shifted to a case against the anti-abortion campaigners, Schaffer said on a conference call with reporters, citing information he said he received from a prosecutor.

Planned Parenthood said that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses in April 2015 when they posed as executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at the Houston facility. That led to the charges they used fake government documents with the intent to defraud.

One critical juncture in the case may have occurred when Planned Parenthood gave law enforcement an important tip: Merritt’s true name, according to Schaffer.

Her identity remained unknown from the time she visited Planned Parenthood with a fake California driver’s license until about December when Daleiden revealed it during a deposition as part of a separate civil lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles, Schaffer said.

As part of his strategy, Schaffer said he explicitly pushed prosecutors to charge Daleiden and Merritt.

“I made the argument regarding the charges that the grand jury returned,” Schaffer said in the interview, “but I did not have to make them very forcefully because it was self-evident to the prosecutors that they engaged in this conduct.”

Fascinating, and I expect it will just enrage the people who are already losing their minds over this, but as I said before a lie can only be sustained for so long. Sooner or later, you have to put your cards on the table. It’s not like we couldn’t have guessed that these guys were liars – there’s a long evidence trail of people like them saying and doing similar things. It’s not even the first time that DA Devon Anderson has been called upon to investigate some wild claims about an abortion provider that turned out to be complete fabrications and lurid fantasies. It’s one thing to believe these stories even though the objective evidence suggests they’re too outrageous to be true (as Daniel Davies has said, there’s no fancy Latin phrase for giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt), but it’s another thing entirely (as Fred Clark often reminds us) to want to believe them, to fervently hope that they really are true, and to keep on believing them even when any reasonable person knows they are not true.

Which brings us to the fraudsters’ defense attorneys, who have their own impossible things to believe.

“We believe this is a runaway grand jury that has acted contrary to the law,” former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve gone after the whistle-blowers.”

Woodfill and prominent criminal defense attorney Terry Yates announced they will represent the two activists and said their defense will turn on First Amendment protections afforded to undercover journalists and focus on the activists’ “intent” when they created fake identifications and offered to buy fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office last year.

On Wednesday, Woodfill and Yates conceded that Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 62, used fake California driver’s licenses to conceal their identities to gain entry to Planned Parenthood offices and corresponded with officials.

“These are techniques that investigative journalists have used for years,” Woodfill said. “If they were to criminalize this conduct, most investigative journalists would be prosecuted for doing the exact same or similar things.”

Fred Brown, an ethics expert for the Society of Professional Journalists, said reporters rarely falsify their identities and said it is “frowned upon.”

“It should be considered a last resort and it’s not really ethical,” Brown said.

Most major newspapers have rules against reporters concealing their identities or using fake names.

Law professor Eugene Volokh would take issue with what Woodfill says, too. It’s interesting to read the story and see how many times they retracted or walked back something they initially asserted. The amount of mental gymnastics they are doing must be quite tiresome.

One more thing:

Daleiden also is charged with trying to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, a Class A misdemeanor.

Woodfill scoffed at the charge, saying, “It’s going to be very difficult for prosecutors to say that they intended to actually purchase human body parts.”

Um, wasn’t the whole point of their exercise to prove that body parts were being sold? How could they do that if they didn’t also believe they could buy them? I know, that’s not quite the same as “intent” in a legal sense, but I think their story will be a little harder for a jury to believe if the claim is they were just trying to get Planned Parenthood to give them their price list. Murray Newman, the Wall Street Journal, the Press, Campos, and David Ortez have more.

Every investigation on Planned Parenthood has cleared them

From Think Progress:

After a months-long investigation, a Texas grand jury decided not to indict Planned Parenthood on Monday — providing more confirmation that there’s no solid evidence to support the accusations against the national women’s health organization.

This trend goes far beyond Texas. Across the country, GOP-led investigations into Planned Parenthood’s activities haven’t turned up any proof that the organization is breaking the law.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire thanks to a series of undercover videos secretly filmed byanti-abortion activists affiliated with a sting group called the Center for Medical Progress. After those videos were released, right-wing lawmakers rushed to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally trafficking in aborted baby parts, and GOP officials launched investigations into the group at both the state and federal levels. This fall, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was required to testify before Congress to defend her organization’s activities.

Despite the increased scrutiny on Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program, however, Republican officials are coming up empty.

In addition to the grand jury in Texas, officials in 11 other states — Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and South Dakota — have also concluded their investigations into Planned Parenthood by clearing the organizationof any wrongdoing. Many of these investigations have been quite extensive and time consuming. In Missouri, for example, the state attorney general confirmed there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

Eight additional states, meanwhile, have determined they don’t have enough evidence against Planned Parenthood to justify conducting an investigation in the first place. Although politicians there pushed for a probe, officials ultimately concluded that it would be a waste of time.

See here for the background. The Harris County District Clerk has released scans of the indictments – the “tampering with a government document” indictments are here, and the “knowingly offer to buy human body parts” indictment is here; this Trib story adds some details. Basically, the two CMP clowns presented fake California drivers’ licenses to the Planned Parenthood people they interacted with, and they did this for the purpose of proving to them that they were not on PP’s internal list of known bad guys. That’s “intent to defraud and harm another”, which is what made this more serious than your average underage kid showing fake ID to get into a bar. I’m sure their defense attorneys will vigorously contest the indictments – this Trib story suggests they will claim a First Amendment justification for creating the fake IDs – and it’s certainly possible they’ll succeed, but that’s what the charges are about.

Again, the larger point is that the practices that these liars accused Planned Parenthood of engaging in – selling fetal tissue for profit – has been investigated coast to coast by nearly two dozen different state entities, and every single one of them has concluded that those claims are false. A normal person, one with a modicum of honesty and integrity, might reasonably conclude that the weight of the evidence so far more than exonerates Planned Parenthood. A dishonest person who lacks any integrity will keep trying to prove that the lies are true.

The Harris County investigation was one of several that began in the state after the center released footage of a Houston clinic executive casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue, which Republican state officials said was proof the organization was making a profit.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party firebrand from Houston, was the first to call for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. He also directed a state Senate committee to conduct its own probe.

On Monday, Patrick issued a statement saying the Senate probe would continue because “the horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also ordered their own investigations, released statements saying they would continue.

“The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry,” Paxton said.

You guys are going to have to clap harder than that. Tinker Bell will never get better unless you really, really mean it. What I believe is that while one can win transient battles based on lies, sooner or later it falls apart and the truth comes out. When that happens, there is a price to be paid. I look forward to seeing the tab for this one. BOR, the Trib, Vox, RH Reality Check, Dan Solomon, TPM, Lisa Falkenberg, and Andrea Grimes, who has a decidedly more pessimistic take than I do, have more.

UPDATE: Another Chron story, noting that 1) a lot of damage has already been done to Planned Parenthood, and 2) the fanatical opponents aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, DA Devon Anderson is probably happy all this happened after the filing deadline for the primaries, and Dahlia Lithwick weighs in.

Grand jury indicts Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Sweet.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County grand jury investigating allegations that a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston illegally sold the tissue of aborted fetuses has cleared the organization of wrongdoing and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the undercover videos that sparked the probe.

Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the surprising indictments Monday after a two-month investigation.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

The probe began after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group run by Daleiden, released footage of the Houston clinic as part of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for scientific research. That prompted allegations that the organization was profiting off of tissue — an allegation that was never proven — and sparked calls for an investigation from Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

[…]

A spokeswoman for the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.”

“It’s great news because it demonstrates what we have said from the very beginning, which is that Planned Parenthood is following every rule and regulation, and that these people came into our buildings under the guise of health when their true intentions were to spread lies,” said the spokeswoman, Rochelle Tafolla. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”

See here for the background. The irony in this is so thick one might choke on it. Greg Abbott made a feeble statement noting that the state was still investigating Planned Parenthood to find some pretext for justifying its decision to completely boot it off Medicaid, but that’s all been a load of hot air. The national office of Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against these CMP idiots and their fraudulent shenanigans, and a separate federal lawsuit against the state of Texas for acting on their lies. I’m thinking both of those cases just got a solid boost. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia on the indictments is here – it sure would be nice to hear from the idiot Texas Monthly columnist who fell for the CMP video hook, line, and sinker as well – and TPM, the Trib, Daily Kos, Think Progress, Trail Blazers, the Current, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Press have more.

Planned Parenthood sues over those anti-abortion sting videos

Game on, indeed.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood is suing the people behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group that released a series of misleading videos this summer claiming that the women’s health organization sells fetal tissue for profit.

“The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”

The lawsuit, announced to reporters Thursday afternoon, might seem a little late, given that the first tapes were released about six months ago and the provider has taken a lot of heat since then. But it took time to do a full investigation into the “complex conspiracy” behind the videos, Laguens told reporters. “We wanted to make sure we had every bit of it right.”

Planned Parenthood isn’t pulling any punches with this lawsuit. The organization is calling CMP a “criminal enterprise” and is suing under federal racketeering law (which has been used once before against anti-abortion protesters but ultimately failed at the Supreme Court). Planned Parenthood is also suing for other damages and bringing a civil action for CMP’s alleged violations of state criminal codes about secret recordings.

The organization says that CMP and its officers engaged in an elaborate three-year criminal conspiracy to mislead Planned Parenthood and public officials, breaking both federal and state laws (in Maryland, Florida, and California, where the suit was filed) in the process.

[…]

It’s worth noting that no state or federal investigations thus far, even those led by anti-abortion officials like Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, have found evidence that Daleiden’s claims about “profit” are true.

Yes, that is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the state of Texas used the pretext that these videos were truthful to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid – to be more accurate, it blustered about it without ever producing any evidence of malfeasance on Planned Parenthood’s part. There’s another lawsuit related to that, and a separate federal lawsuit filed against the CMP last year, which was narrower in scope. Somebody’s been lying all along, and one way or another the courts will sort that out. You can see a copy of the lawsuit here, and ThinkProgress, RH Reality Check, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press.

Harris County DA to investigate Planned Parenthood clinic here

I haven’t spent any time writing about the misleading attack videos on Planned Parenthood being put out by yet another shadowy anti-abortion group, so let me dispense with this.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Wednesday her office has begun a criminal investigation into the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood after the release earlier this week of a video showing an agency executive discussing the preservation of organs of aborted fetuses.

Anderson, who described the video as being “disturbing,” said she has reviewed it, as have prosecutors and investigators in her office.

The video was the fifth to be released by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group whose activists in April secretly recorded Melissa Farrell with the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She discusses how to preserve aborted fetuses for research purposes as well as the different types, methods and costs of fetal tissue harvesting. The videos are part of the group’s campaign to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue to scientists.

Anderson said the first step in the investigation process is to obtain the complete, unedited video to make sure they know the context of all of Farrell’s statements. She said an investigation is “warranted at this time,” but added it is “premature” to say what crimes, if any, the branch has committed.

“We won’t know until our investigation is complete,” Anderson said. “So for that reason I will not speculate on which laws have been violated or any possible resulting sentences. Our investigation could reveal state as well as federal law violations, or no violations at all.”

Go ahead and investigate away. As was the case with the state of Indiana, I seriously doubt there will be anything to find. That’s what one should expect when a group of fundamentally dishonest people with ties to violent extremists engage in a dishonest campaign to elicit a political reaction. They got their reaction, but that doesn’t mean anyone should trust a word they say. I fully expect the investigation here to come up empty as well. On the plus side, KUHF notes that Anderson “will also look for evidence of any laws being broken by the anti-abortion group”, so maybe something positive will come out of this. That would be ironic, and richly deserved if it happens. My money is still on this being quietly dropped as a nothingburger, though.