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Judge: White House persecuting pro-lifer

A federal judge says he doesn’t have enough evidence to sanction Barack Obama’s Department of Justice, but its prosecution of a Florida pro-lifer is suspiciously like persecution.

“It is rather curious that the Department of Justice was able to meet with the [Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.] staff and police officers the very next day after the alleged violations occurred. It is also curious that the government failed to make any efforts to obtain the identities of the passengers who are the alleged victims in this case – the court finds it hard to believe that the government was completely unaware of the existence of the sign-in sheets and video surveillance system.”

The comments come from U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp on a decision granting summary judgment for Mary Susan Pine. She had been charged with a violation of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances law and could have been subjected to an intimidating $10,000 fine.

“The court can only wonder whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the government and the PWC, which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine’s conduct,” the judge wrote.

“If this is the case, the court would be inclined to sanction the government with, at a minimum, an adverse inference. Given the absence of further evidence substantiating the court’s suspicions, the court is not authorized to do so,” the judge wrote.

The judge’s 21-page ruling granting Pine a summary judgment and clearing her of the charges said the entire episode raised questions.

“The court is at a loss as to why the government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place,” Ryskamp wrote. “The record [is] almost entirely devoid of evidence that Ms. Pine acted with the prohibited motive and intent or that Ms. Pine engaged in any unlawful conduct. The government has failed to create a genuine issue for trial on all three elements of its FACE (Federal Access to Clinic Entrances) claim, and Ms. Pine is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Federal prosecutors under Obama’s pro-abortion agenda had accused her of stopping a car to talk to the occupants while they were going into a parking lot – and might or might not have been going to an abortion business, the evidence doesn’t include that.

“Congress, undoubtedly aware of FACE’s potential First Amendment implications, specifically provided that FACE shall not be construed ‘to prohibit any expressive conduct including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstrations protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution.'”

He continued, “A person is entitled to express his or her views on abortion so long as by doing it does not interfere with another’s right to obtain an abortion. In this case, Ms. Pine was on a public driveway conducting a peaceful demonstration on an important topic of public concern….

“Stretching the terms of FACE to apply to this case so that delaying a vehicle for a matter of seconds constitutes an unlawful physical obstruction, or so that a desire to provide people with information about alternatives to abortion constitutes an unlawful motive, would unjustifiably impinge on Ms. Pine’s First Amendment rights.”

He wrote, “There is thus no competing constitutional right to justify the burden placed on Ms. Pine’s right of expression and hold her liable for a hefty civil penalty of up to $10,000.”

Some of the judge’s comments came in the text of the order while others were included in the footnotes.

“This is a tremendous victory not just for Susan Pine, but for the First Amendment and the pro-life movement,” said Harry Mihet, senior litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel, which worked on the case.

“Attorney General [Eric] Holder sought to use federal law as a billy club against pro-lifers, but received instead a clobbering from the very Constitution he had sworn to protect. Freedom-loving Americans everywhere should rejoice.”

Liberty Counsel said the action “ended Attorney General Eric Holder’s two-year political prosecution of pro-life educator Mary Susan Pine.”

Holder had demanded thousands of dollars in fines plus a permanent injunction banning her from counseling women on the public sidewalk outside PWC, where she has ministered faithfully for more than 20 years.

“The evidence could not lead a rational jury to find that Ms. Pine’s conduct (i.e., having peaceful conversations with clinic visitors on a public sidewalk] constituted a physical obstruction within the meaning of FACE.”

Holder launched the attack on the women in 2010. She routinely approaches vehicles and pedestrians entering and exiting the PWC parking lot, talking about abortion and offering information about “life-affirming’ alternatives, the court opinion explained.

“Sometimes people stop and accept her literature; many people do not.”

The situation developed on Nov. 19, 2009, when Sanjay Raja, a police officer, was on duty. He had positioned himself so he could observe Pine from about 300 feet away.

He reported a green sedan started entering the lot through the “exit only” drive, and stopped, and Pine approached the driver’s window. The driver rolled the window down, and she talked with the driver and a passenger.

The officer told them not to block traffic and the car moved on.

The DOJ started working on a FACE prosecution the next day, but the judge noted that the government never asked for any surveillance videos or login records from the abortion business, and they later were destroyed routinely.

The judge noted Pine sought the dismissal because the government failed to prove she obstructed the sedan, or even that the vehicle occupants were en route to the abortion business.

“Although one might suspect that the government was in fact aware of such facts [about surveillance videos], and that it purposely neglected to prevent destruction of the sign-in sheets and surveillance tapes because they were detrimental to its FACE claim, mere speculation is insufficient to support a finding of bad faith,” the judge wrote. “The government’s failure to take the necessary steps to prevent the destruction of potentially critical evidence was indeed negligent, and perhaps even grossly negligent. Absent a showing of bad faith, however, an adverse inference is not warranted.”