Planned Parenthood Effort to Expand Injunction Sputters
February 9, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO, (christiansunite.com) -- Planned Parenthood's latest attempt to banish sidewalk counselors from in front of its clinic in San Mateo, California, appeared likely to go down in defeat after a judge made a preliminary ruling that the abortion business had failed to prove its case against long-time pro-life advocate Ross Foti.
Over five years ago, Mr. Foti entered into a mutually binding injunction with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate (PPGG), in order to put an end to years of legal wrangling over his rights at the clinic. Mr. Foti agreed to stay 15 feet from clinic property and to limit the number of his signs on the sidewalk in exchange for PPGG's agreement that its "escorts" would not block him or drown out his words.
PPGG was undoubtedly chagrined to find that, far from being discouraged, Mr. Foti redoubled his efforts and continued to appear several times a week at the clinic in order to picket, pray, and reach out to abortion- bound women. Moreover, over the years, other pro- lifers, including some 40 Days for Life participants, came to pray and counsel on the public sidewalk in front of the clinic.
PPGG responded by retaining a private investigator to document Mr. Foti's alleged violations of the injunction. In addition to claiming that Mr. Foti was violating restrictions on where he, his signs, and his truck could be, PPGG claimed that Mr. Foti was "enlisting" other individuals to violate the injunction. The evidence for this contention were the occasional conversations that Mr. Foti was seen having with other pro-lifers who crossed the street to talk to him.
PPGG's attack was not simply against Mr. Foti, who, if found in violation, could have received a jail sentence and a $21,000 fine, as well as being ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars to PPGG's lawyers. The larger strategy was to get a court to rule that Mr. Foti was "acting in concert" with anyone else who came to the clinic, and then to move against these individuals directly as co-contemnors with Mr. Foti. Indeed, on December 5, 2009, PPGG arranged for process servers to serve the injunction and a threatening letter on every person who happened to be present at the clinic that day.
At a trial held in San Mateo Superior Court on February 4 and 5, Judge Elizabeth Lee heard PPGG's witnesses. Mr. Foti was represented by LLDF Legal Director Katie Short and volunteer attorney Mike Millen. Under cross-examination, PPGG's private investigator frequently contradicted himself and was forced to admit that his videos, photos, and notes did not support his earlier testimony that Mr. Foti had repeatedly violated the injunction.
At the close of the plaintiff's case, Judge Lee indicated that PPGG had not met its burden of showing that Mr. Foti was guilty of willfully violating the court order. However, at the urging of PPGG's attorneys, she permitted a round of briefing to finalize the legal and factual arguments.
"Planned Parenthood's attorneys are shamelessly trying to expand the reach of the injunction," said Short. "They are conjuring up the most strained and fantastic interpretations of the language of the various provisions to further limit Mr. Foti. But they are also trying, as they have so often in the past, to use an injunction that applies to one group of pro-lifers as their ticket to get rid of every pro-lifer who comes after, no matter if it is years later. Fortunately, Judge Lee does not appear inclined to let them get away with it."
The parties are due to appear in court in April for the final hearing on the matter.
LLDF was established in 1989, and is a non-profit organization composed of attorneys and other concerned citizens, committed to giving helpless and innocent human beings of any age, particularly the unborn, and their advocates, a trained and committed voice in the courtrooms of our nation.