Published On: Thu, Mar 14th, 2019

Thomas More Society defends New York pro-lifers, street protests against attorney general, ‘obstruction’

The Thomas More Society continues to defend a group of peaceful pro-life protesters as the New York Attorney General’s office persists in  prosecuting an unjust harassment lawsuit. The suit, originally brought by now-disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, targets ten sidewalk counselors who are members of the Church@TheRock in Brooklyn. The pro-life advocates, who politely offer abortion-bound women information on life-affirming alternatives, were accused of “a weekly pattern of threatening, obstructive and violent activity.” After a three-week trial, and despite the attorney general’s targeted surveillance campaign spanning over a year, the attorney general’s accusations were rejected by Judge Carol Bagley Amon, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York , who denied the injunction he sought by. The Attorney General appealed the loss to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, claiming the district court got it wrong, and on March 5, 2019, a team of Thomas More Society attorneys filed a 70-page brief in response.

photo by Carrie Z. via pixabay

Schneiderman, who resigned in May 2018 over allegations h physically and sexually abused girlfriends, filed his claims under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act. Schneiderman had sought both a preliminary and a permanent injunction, compensatory damages, and additional monetary penalties against the pro-life advocates.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Martin Cannon, who represents the sidewalk counselors, explained the problems with the state’s baseless case. “The FACE Act specifically exempts constitutionally protected advocacy from its prohibitions. Judge 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.”

Schneiderman’s replacement, Barbara Underwood, has chosen to continue the former attorney general’s quest to “shut down this pro-life advocacy and get these sidewalk counselors off the sidewalk,” according to Cannon.

Cannon explained the problems with New York’s appeal. “It seeks to overturn the district court’s detailed findings of fact. The attorney general cannot show the judge abused her discretion, which is what New York must show to prevail on appeal. Courts of appeals are not entitled to overturn the district court’s assessments of witness credibility. There is no instance in which the video or photo evidence ‘blatantly contradicts’ the district court’s findings, as the attorney general claims.”

“The attorney general also is attempting to advance a new, ‘obstruction’ legal theory,” added Cannon. “It ignores the terms of the statute, would not change the district court’s result, cannot be raised for the first time on appeal, and is unconstitutional.” He categories the attorney general’s claim that the district court should have drawn different factual conclusions without demonstrating any clear error as a “failing argument.”

Cannon concludes that the appellate court should affirm the district court’s denial of the attorney general’s request for preliminary injunction.

Notable witnesses brought by the attorney general in the district court case included:

  • “Millionaire Abortionist” Merle Hoffman, who testified that pro-life advocates should be considered the “American Taliban”
  • An abortion clinic escort, whose testimony was proven to be borrowed from her description of different events at a different clinic, involving different pro-life counselors, from a time prior to onset of the Church@TheRock’s activities outside of the Choices abortion clinic
  • Law enforcement testimony, which documented the former attorney general’s year-long surveillance and targeted action plan against the pro-life sidewalk counselors

Read the Thomas More Society’s Brief for the Griepp Defendants, here. [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Griepp-Response-Brief-Filed-March-2019.pdf]

Read more about the case here (https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/rock-solid-for-life-the-outcome-of-a-federal-trial-in-new-york-is-critical-to-the-future-of-pro-life-sidewalk-counseling/).

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