The prosecution of 13 pro-life protesters by then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – who stunningly declared this is “not a nation where you can choose your point of view” – has been rebuffed by a federal judge.
In May, Schneiderman resigned in disgrace after being accused by numerous women of physically attacking them. Several of the women went public with their descriptions of his threats and violent behavior, including some who were badly injured.
U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon ruled in the case Schneiderman brought against Kenneth Griepp, Ronald George, Patricia Musco, Randall Doe, Osayinwense Okuanghae, Anne Kaminsky, Brian George, Sharon Doe, Deborah Ryan, Angela Braxton, Jasmine LaLande, Prisca Joseph and Scott Fitchett Jr.
He wanted a court order preventing them from exercising their constitutional right to speech through trying to persuade women approaching the Choices Women’s Medical Center not to have an abortion.
The judge described what the activists did that so enraged Schneiderman: “Some hold large signs that purport to show images of aborted fetuses; others principally preach; still others attempt to hand approaching patients and their companions anti-abortion literature and to engage them in conversation about the morality of their actions.”
The state’s case, later handled by other staff members after Schneiderman left, demanded monetary penalties against the pro-life activists under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and several city and state laws.
The state presented videos, photographs and testimonies as evidence.
The judge found the prosecution witnesses were unreliable and the evidence insufficient.
“It is notable that, despite the availability of hundreds of hours of video evidence, the OAG has not cite a single video that corroborates the witness testimony claiming near-weekly violations. Instead, the video evidence contradicts the escorts’ accounts of protester conduct on specific occasions,” the judge wrote.
The witnesses, the judge said, “exaggerate the impropriety of the defendants’ conduct” and omitted “mitigating circumstances.”
The judge said a pro-abortion activist claimed she had been “shoved,” only she later admitted no one had touched her. And Pearl Brady, an “escort” who wore a wire to entrap pro-lifers and gathered much of the information the prosecution used in the case, was “entirely not credible,” the judge said.
“Her recollection of events has proven to be biased and unreliable.”
Several other prosecution witnesses were put in the same class by the judge, who repeatedly said the OAG “failed to introduce sufficient credible evidence.”
The pro-lifers were defended by lawyers with the Thomas More Law Center, the Thomas More Society and Liberty Counsel.
“A radical state attorney general abandoned his duty to enforce the law fairly in favor of pursuing an ideological campaign intended to silence pro-life Christians,” said Tyler Brooks, a lawyer with TMLC.
“The federal court, however, has seen through the state of New York’s efforts and made clear that the free speech of Christians will not be censored simply because some people on the left do not like it.”
Kate Oliveri, another lawyer with the organization, added: “In denying the state’s preliminary injunction motion, the district court judge protected the true victims of harassment: the pro-life sidewalk counselors. Judge Amon sent a clear message to the New York attorney general’s office that the First Amendment does indeed guarantee the right of citizens in New York to have their own viewpoint.”
The hearing on the demand for a preliminary injunction was held Feb. 12 and March 6.
Choices has for years had cameras monitoring its entrance, and the AG even installed his own trying to obtain enough evidence.
Schneiderman, when he filed the case more than a year ago, claimed there was “a weekly pattern of threatening, obstructive and violent activity.”
Thomas More Society special counsel Martin Cannon explained Schneiderman’s problem: “The FACE Act specifically exempts constitutionally protected advocacy from its prohibitions. U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon obviously agreed. After a three-week trial on the preliminary injunction, she issued a 103-page opinion, systematically rejecting the credibility of the state’s witnesses, the merits of the state’s arguments, and the request for the injunction itself.”
Kenneth Griepp, senior pastor at [email protected] and one of the defendants, said: “We thank the Lord that our life-affirming work to counsel women considering abortion was upheld in federal court. As Christians who seek to honor Jesus, like Him, we will continue to offer compassion to those who see abortion as the only way out of an unexpected pregnancy. We said from the beginning that the charges against us were baseless and an offense to the First Amendment. We are grateful for the court’s thoughtful and detailed opinion that vindicates our rights.”
One of the witnesses Schneiderman had arranged was the “millionaire abortionist” Merle Hoffman, who claimed pro-life advocates should be considered the “American Taliban.”