Pro-life activists are cheering the decision of Texas prosecutors to drop felony charges against two reporters who exposed the practices of Planned Parenthood in undercover videos last year, but the attorney for one says the only reason they ever faced criminal allegations was due to politics.
On Tuesday, Harris County, Texas, prosecutors dismissed one felony count against Center for Medical Progress Founder David Daleiden and his colleague, Sandra Merritt. The felony charge was for “tampering with a government record for using false identification.” Daleiden and Merritt each faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Earlier this year, a judge threw out misdemeanor charges against the pair.
Merritt attorney Mathew Staver says the decision was a relief and brings an end to a very frustrating case.
“Sandra’s pleased that this is now behind her, but it never should have been filed in the first place,” said Staver, who is founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
The Center for Medical Progress produced a series of videos showing top Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the killing of unborn children in ways that best preserved the body parts that were most valuable to reasearchers.
Staver says the grand jury that indicted Daleiden and Merritt was tasked with investigating possible crimes by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Instead politics rendered a different decision.
“They never should have indicted them. They didn’t do anything wrong. There was no criminal activity or criminal intent in this case. There is, I think, a real target that they ought to go after. That’s Planned Parenthood,” said Staver.
There are two issues of legal malpractice in this case, according to Staver. First, prosecutors kept the grand jury impaneled longer than expected in order to pursue the charges. Second, one of the top lawyers in the district attorney’s office sits on the Planned Parenthood Board in the Houston area.
Without Liberty Counsel’s help, Staver says his client would be financially ruined.
“We provided our legal counsel at no cost, but had we not been there, Sandra would have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this kind of representation over a bogus indictment to begin with. That’s the problem when the system becomes politically charged and politically motivated as in this particular case,” said Staver.
Harris County prosecutors began offering the defendants deals even before the first hearing in the case, which Daleiden and Merritt instantly rejected. Staver says that was another glaring sign that the case had no legs.
“They’ve got to be held accountable. I think there has to be some sort of investigation of the district attorney’s office for what went on when they exceeded their authority in bringing these charges in the first place,” said Staver.
He says there have to be consequences for reckless prosecutions given the upheaval the experience brings to innocent people.
“They can do a lot of abuse. While the person who’s being indicted can ultimately be victorious at the end of the day, look what they have been drug through: financial ruin, financial harm, and harm to their well being and reputation,” said Staver.
While he and Merritt were always confident no crime was committed, Staver says facing a felony indictment, especially in a high-profile case, is very stressful.
“It is quite startling to wake up and find out the rest of the country is now reading about you. Your name’s plastered everywhere. People want to get to your house. They want to photograph you. You lose some of your privacy, because now you are indicted as a criminal. Think of that. That is the startling reality of what Sandra had to face,” said Staver.
Staver, who also represented Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis in her fight against having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her name, says he has been very impressed at how his high-profile clients handle this sort of challenge.
“They are both amazing people. They both love the Lord. That’s where they got their strength. This is a time where lots of people would buckle, but Sandra and Kim, never once thought about buckling. They never once thought they should do something else. They knew they were doing the right thing,” said Staver.
“It was their faith in Jesus Christ that got them through these situations. Both of them have that in common and both of them have in common that they have out the other side victorious,” he added.
The legal battles are not quite over for Merritt. While the criminal charges are a thing of the past, Planned Parenthood is suing her in federal court on racketeering charges, in a move that Staver says could bankrupt Merritt if she loses.
He says the fact that Daleiden and Merritt are somehow perceived as villains for exposing the for-profit harvesting of baby parts during and after abortions shows America is in a bad place.
“I think it shows how messed up this nation is right now and how much we need to get back to Jesus, get grounded and understand that our rights come from God, not from government,” said Staver.
“Instead of indicting the criminal enterprise that is killing babies, hurting people, and selling baby body parts, they went after the person who was exercising their first amendment right to freedom of speech to get this information out to the rest of the public,” he added.