An attorney representing the Center for Medical Progress said that the 15 felony charges filed in California against his clients amount to “legal lunacy.”
Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, filed 15 felony charges against David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, and his associate, Sandra Merritt, for their roles in the release of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives appearing to negotiate the price of aborted fetal body parts.
California prosecutors said that Daleiden and Merritt filmed 14 people without their consent and filed a charge for each conversation. They filed an additional charge for “criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.”
Hours after the charges were announced, Daleiden's group released a new video.
Matt Heffron, an attorney with the Thomas More Society and a member of the legal team representing the Center for Medical Progress, told TheBlaze that the charges were filed shortly before the three-year statute of limitations ran out on some of the charges later in April.
Heffron said his clients are being targeted for “14 different instances of undercover reporting.”
Prosecutors, however, claim that Daleiden and Merritt violated a California statute barring the recording of “confidential communication.”
“This is complete legal lunacy that they would be charging this,” Heffron said. He argued that the California Penal Code applies only to conversations that can “reasonably” be expected to be private and specifically excludes conversations in a public setting. The conversations in question took place in public areas such as restaurants and networking receptions.
“Each one of these recordings was always in a public place,” he said. “No one could reasonably expect those to be confidential. It excludes communications made in a public venue.”
Heffron said the statute “was never intended for journalists or for undercover reporting,” pointing to David Goldstein, a “highly accomplished” investigative journalist with Los Angeles’ KCBS-TV, who frequently does undercover investigations in his reporting.
“He’s never been prosecuted, as you might not be surprised to hear,” Heffron said.
He also pointed to a 2015 undercover video shot by animal rights activists depicting brutal practices against animals at a California slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse was investigated by state officials after the release of the video.
“So what is the moral of the story?” Heffron asked. “The moral is, if you’re an undercover reporter against goat slaughtering, you get applauded and not prosecuted. If you’re an undercover reporter who is reporting on the slaying of human children, you yourself get prosecuted, and the ones who actually do the slaughtering do not get prosecuted.”
Daleiden has said that his organization acted as citizen journalists, while his critics have characterized his actions as those of an activist.
Heffron defended the videos as the work of a journalist.
"You don’t have to work for CBS or ABC or CNN or whoever to call yourself a journalist," he said. "So calling him an activist, to a great extent, that’s just rhetoric at this point.”
According to Heffron, the legal team is optimistic about their ability to fight the case in court and Daleiden has been “energized” by the charges.
“No one on this side has any intent of doing anything but fighting it,” Heffron said. “We’re not worried about the substance here, because there are so many defenses and it’s so glaringly political.”