An appeals court’s decision to award the defendants legal fees and costs of almost $64,000 finally has ended a 28-year-long fight over the now-discarded claims by the National Organization for Women that a team of pro-life activists in Chicago conspired criminally to oppose abortion.
The announcement comes from officials with the Thomas More Society in Chicago, whose lawyers have fought on behalf of Joseph Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg, Timothy Murphy and the Pro-Life Action League for nearly three decades.
Seven of those years were spent in arguing over the fees decision, since WND reported in 2007 that a final judgment, following three trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, had been issued.
While NOW and a number of the nation’s leading abortion providers alleged the pro-lifers engaged in a criminal conspiracy to halt the abortion industry, U.S. District Judge David Coar ruled that was not so.
WND had reported a year earlier that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled for the third time in the case, deciding in favor of pro-life activists who were sued by NOW over their protests at abortion clinics.
In that 8-0 ruling then, the high court said federal extortion and racketeering laws could not be used to ban the protests.
In 2003, WND reported NOW had lost its second round in the Supreme Court in a decisive 8-1 ruling. The feminist group charged that protests organized by Scheidler’s Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League amounted to extortion under RICO.
A lawyer who has worked on the case, Tom Brejcha, of Chicago’s Thomas More Society and Pro-Life Law Center, said then that the dismissal of the case was huge.
“The plaintiffs designed this case as a huge dragnet and they cast it far and wide as if to encompass the entire pro-life activist movement in America,” he said at the time. “The law of ‘res judicata’ or ‘claim preclusion’ varies from state to state, but all pro-life activists who face lawsuits by their local abortion providers may have a defense based on today’s final judgment.
“The judgment bars ‘all claims that might have been brought in this case’ on behalf of all class member abortion clinics. This is not just federal RICO or antitrust claims, but also state and local trespass or harassment claims of all sorts,” he said. “As NOW and the other plaintiffs have met a final defeat, the tables are turned against them.”
After the award of fees on Wednesday, Brejcha said, “Today we celebrate a long-awaited, hopefully final victory for millions of pro-lifers here and around the country.
“The abortion plaintiffs had been claiming that the heroic leaders whom we defended were leaders of a vast nationwide conspiracy comprising as many as a million members, thereby putting a black cloud over pro-life efforts to advocate against abortion as if these efforts to save human lives were some horrific enterprise bent on ‘extortion’ and ‘racketeering,’” he said.
“After nearly 28 years of litigating and three trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are proud to declare that pro-lifers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association are once again secure and protected by law. Banding together with fellow citizens to advocate for the sanctity of each and every human life – born and unborn, wanted or allegedly ‘unwanted’ – are precious rights of all American citizens.”
The award came just over a month short of the 28th anniversary of the “historic, marathon litigation.”
The conclusion came when a federal appellate court rejected NOW’s objections to the order that it pay $63,391.45 in costs.
Brejcha’s organization reported, “Judge Frank Easterbrook penned a sharply written, seven page opinion in which he seemed almost to scoff at the objections raised by the abortion lawyers’ quibbles over the pro-lifers’ claims, which he deemed ‘modest for a suit that entailed discovery, a long trial, many motions in the district court, and appellate proceedings that span a generation.’
“In fact, he dismissed the abortion lawyers’ arguments as ‘preposterous’ and quipped that, ‘The costs amount to less than $2,300 per year of litigation.’ Easterbrook closed his opinion in a pair of terse sentences that resonate deeply and dramatically with those who fought this often-agonizing litigation over many years, going back to Jun, 1986: ‘This litigation has lasted far too long. At last it is over.’”
The case actually produced the Thomas More Society. Brejcha was a partner in a Chicago law firm then and was told by his managing partner to drop the case or leave. He left, to create the legal organization.
The case was before the Supreme Court on three occasions, which the society said appears to be a precedent.
The high court the first time said the RICO racketeering claims should be evaluated.
The case at that point moved in front of Coar, who presided over a lengthy RICO jury trial in March-April and June-July 1998, after which he ruled for NOW and determined damages to be $257,000.
In 2002, the Supreme Court’s second crack at the case happened, and resulted in a decisive 8-1 judgment for the pro-lifers.
The third time it was there, the justices voted 8-0 in favor of the pro-lifers, with Sanda O’Connor resigned.
With the case itself terminated, the only remaining arguments were over the fees and costs, which took another seven years.
That dispute also went to the appellate court level before it was ended.