Over the last two weeks in the ongoing federal civil jury trial of Planned Parenthood against David Daleiden, Judge William Orrick has repeatedly cut off defense questioning that he considers straying too close to eliciting information related to Planned Parenthood’s history of selling tissue from aborted fetuses.
Planned Parenthood is suing undercover journalist David Daleiden and others associated with his organization, Center for Medical Progress (CPM), alleging that Daleiden and his team committed illegal wiretapping, trespassing, breaches of confidentiality, and more. The challenge that Planned Parenthood attorneys have accepted is to make the case that Daleiden and his team illegally recorded private conversations, without admitting what exactly those conversations were about.
But it’s not just the plaintiffs who don’t want the jury to consider the potentially illegal activities happening at Planned Parenthood clinics. Judge Orrick laid out the ground rules to the jury in his opening statements on Day One, saying this case “is not about the truth of whether plaintiffs profited from the sale of fetal tissue or otherwise violated the law in securing tissue for those programs,” and adding that, “those issues are a matter of dispute between the parties in the world outside this courtroom.”
On day two of the trial, when defense attorney Horatio Mihet asked Daleiden’s partner and CMP investigator, Sandra Merritt, about information she learned about the human tissue procurement company StemExpress from a Planned Parenthood whistleblower, Orrick ordered the court to take a break. He sent the jury out of the room and lectured Mihet for disobeying his orders to not discuss abortion procedures.
“I just want to be very clear that I want these witnesses to be able to testify as to what their reasonable state of mind was with respect to the specific defense…but we’re not going into the truth of abortion procedures. I’ve excluded that,” Orrick said.
Another defense attorney, Charles LiMandri, interjected, saying he didn’t understand why the judge was precluding information their clients learned about Planned Parenthood’s abortion practice.
“It would almost preclude the defense entirely, because part of showing what someone’s reasonable belief is that reasonableness of the information they relied on and the source,” LiMandri said.
Later, when Merritt was asked to describe how a Stanford study used a device to keep intact fetal hearts beating and alive for experimentation, Orrick cut her off with an, “All right. Thank you.”
On day three, CMP investigator Adrian Lopez testified that he was motivated to investigate Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue harvesting efforts when he saw an online order form for fetal body parts on StemExpress’s website.
“You go in there and it’s basically a custom order for fetal tissue. You put — there is a drop-down menu for gestational age. There is a drop-down menu for what type of tissues you want, quantities and so forth,” he said.
“Your Honor, may I show the witness a screen shot of that website?” defense attorney Paul Jonna asked.
“Not — we can talk about it at the break, but tissue procurement organizations I’ve already made rulings on with respect to this,” Orrick said, deciding that he would not allow the defense to show the jury screenshots of the relevant StemExpress order form.
Perhaps one of the more confusing rulings by Orrick was when he allowed Planned Parenthood’s lawyers to play recordings of the undercover videos in question, but would not allow the same for the defense. As the jury deliberates over whether the undercover videos are considered “private” or “confidential,” and therefore illegal under state law, the defense is barred from showing videos that could prove whether the videos were recorded in private settings. The judge did allow the defense to play some selected videos, but extra precaution was taken to make sure they were played without any sound or captions.
After one video was shown, only to the witness on the stand and not to the jury, Jonna asked the judge if he would allow the witness to describe “a little bit more about the content”?
“He can describe where people were, but he’s already described that they were discussing abortion procedures. So that’s as far as I’m going to go at the moment,” Orrick said.
Despite the judge’s restrictions, several admissions of baby body part trafficking were made by Planned Parenthood directors who took the witness stand.
On day four, Dr. Thomas Moran, associate medical director of Planned Parenthood Pacific Southwest, was asked about Planned Parenthood’s supply of fetal organs to the aborted fetal organ wholesaler Advance Bioscience Resources.
“And as a result of abortions that would be performed there, including abortions you did, they would sometimes place a demand for certain organs, correct?” the defense attorney asked.
“That was certainly my understanding, yeah,” Moran answered.
On day five, the former head of Planned Parenthood Northern California and Mar Monte, Dr. Leslie Drummond-Hay, said she was once asked to provide four intact limbs for StemExpress, and was successful in doing so. In one of the undercover videos recorded by Daleiden, Drummond-Hay said StemExpress was so impressed by her specimens, they got “oohs and ahhs.”
During cross examination, when asked what she meant by that, Drummond-Hay answered, “The tissue procurement company was happy with the specimen.”
The trial continues on Wednesday, with additional dates currently scheduled through Nov. 15. The court has allotted each side 45 hours to present their case.