A federal jury began deliberating Wednesday in the civil trial of a fraud and trespass lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood Federation against anti-abortion activists who infiltrated meetings and secretly videotaped interviews.
Activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, allegedly aided by several colleagues, created a phony tissue procurement company and used false identities to enter abortion care meetings and Planned Parenthood centers in 2014 and 2015 and surreptitiously taped interviews.
Videos that Daleiden then posted online in 2015, which Planned Parenthood claims were deceptively edited, allegedly led to threats and harassment of Planned Parenthood staff.
But U.S. District Judge William Orrick has ruled that the individuals and their organization, The Center for Medical Progress, cannot be held liable for threats and violence by third parties, but rather only for costs to Planned Parenthood that they directly caused.
Planned Parenthood lawyers have asked the jury to award $630,000 for increased security costs plus an additional punitive damages award in an amount to be determined by the jury.
The lawsuit by Planned Parenthood and several local affiliates includes claims of fraud, trespass, breach of confidentiality agreements, illegal recording and racketeering conspiracy.
Daleiden and his colleagues maintain they were undercover journalists, while Planned Parenthood lawyers contend they intended to demonize and destroy the health care organization.
Orrick has ruled, however, that journalism is not a defense to the claims of illegal acts and has instructed the jury to that effect.
The jurors deliberated for several hours Wednesday and will resume Thursday morning. The session will begin with a courtroom playback of the testimony of a Planned Parenthood official, which the jury requested after deliberations began.