A San Francisco Superior Court judge Thursday rejected motions to dismiss felony charges against two anti-abortion activists accused of violating state privacy laws by secretly filming people without permission.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt face 15 felony counts each, including 14 counts for each of the California residents they are alleged to have secretly filmed during an attempt to prove Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue, and one count of conspiracy.
Criminal charges were filed against the two by the state Attorney General’s Office in March, based on recordings made during annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation in San Francisco and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015.
Daleiden and colleagues allegedly created a phony medical supply company and posed as tissue buyers in order to infiltrate the meetings.
Judge Christopher Hite had previously dismissed all charges except the conspiracy count against Daleiden and Merritt on June 21 on the grounds that they were not specific enough.
However, prosecutors refiled the charges on June 30 with more details and Hite on Thursday rejected new defense motions to dismiss the charges.
Daleiden entered a not guilty plea following the ruling, but Merritt postponed entering a plea and her attorneys said they planned to appeal.
Attorney Brent Ferreira, who is representing Daleiden, said his client did not violate privacy laws because the conversations took place in public places.
“An absolute defense to that law is that you can record anything you want in a public place, and all of these recordings were made in extremely public places, the St Francis Hotel, hallways, meetings rooms of the hotel,” Ferreira said. “There’s no case here.”
The law also allows citizens to record private conversations if they are investigating violent felonies, Ferreira said.
Daleiden argued that what did was no different from what news reporters do when they conduct undercover or hidden camera investigations, and alleged the prosecution was politically motivated.
“What’s different is that we went after the sacred cows of the California political establishment, the political backers of the organs of power in the state of California,” Daleiden said.
“This isn’t about me, this isn’t about Sandra, this is about the videos,” he said. “Planned Parenthood knows they are one vote away in the U.S. Senate from losing half a billion a year in taxpayer subsidies, they are one awful sting video away from that vote happening.”
The videos themselves currently remain under seal, as does the list of names of the victims.
However, Daleiden’s attorneys released them earlier this year in connection with a separate civil lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco.
That case, filed by the National Abortion Federation against Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress, centers on claims of violation of a confidentiality contract, racketeering, fraud, trespass and invasion of privacy.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick in July found Daleiden, the center and his attorneys, Ferreira and Steve Cooley, in contempt of court for posting the videos to a website on May 25 and ordered them to pay a $137,000 penalty.
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.
The federation argued that the release of the videos triggered threats and harassment against its members.
Planned Parenthood officials issued a statement when criminal charges were filed, noting that “more than a dozen different state investigations have made clear: Planned Parenthood has done nothing wrong, and the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes.”