SAN FRANCISCO — A California judge ruled Monday that the names of 14 Planned Parenthood workers and others will remain sealed during the prosecution of two anti-abortion activists charged with secretly recording them.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite made the ruling despite the publication of the names on an anti-abortion website over the weekend.
Hite said he would punish anyone discovered to have provided the names, which have been ordered to be kept confidential since charges were filed in 2017 against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress.
“The reason for the sealing is they are in fear of bodily harm,” California attorney general prosecutor Johnette Jauron said.
One the Planned Parenthood workers filed an affidavit saying Daleiden has her phone number and texted her in 2016 saying, “‘I know a lot has happened in the past year, and maybe I’m the last person you want to hear from. But if there’s anything I can do to help you, please let me know.’”
Merritt’s lawyer Horacio Mihet and Daleiden’s attorney Brentford Ferreira argued against sealing the names. Each told the judge they didn’t give the names to the website and don’t know who did.
The judge said he would rule later on Planned Parenthood’s unusual legal demand to join California’s criminal prosecution of the activists charged with invasion of privacy for secretly making videos as they tried to buy fetal material from the organization.
Hite also will rule later on whether to seal videos shown in court once the case concludes.
He also pushed back a preliminary hearing to April 22.
The pair has pleaded not guilty and argue they are undercover journalists shielded from prosecution.
Daleiden and Merritt were accused of secretly making videos that Planned Parenthood argued were heavily edited to unfairly show workers agreeing to sell fetal material for profit, which the group says it does not do.
The videos led to three congressional inquiries and criminal investigations in at least 15 states.
Planned Parenthood says it wants to join the prosecution for the safety of the workers scheduled to testify. It also wants to counter the defendants’ claims they were filming criminal behavior.
The group’s attorneys say they want the ability to object to defense questions that could identify or otherwise jeopardize the workers’ safety.
A federal judge presiding over Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress last year barred release of some the videos.
Daleiden and Merritt sneaked into numerous Planned Parenthood meetings and other abortion-rights gatherings and shot undercover videos of their attempts to buy fetal material. They published the videos in 2015.
Planned Parenthood says it doesn’t sell fetal material for profit and charged only modest expenses to cover costs of donating it for medical research. The organization stopped seeking reimbursement for its shipping costs, and it never faced charges.
In one instance, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict Planned Parenthood and instead filed charges against the pair for using fake driver’s licenses to get into Planned Parenthood meetings.
Those charges were dropped in 2017, the same year California Attorney General Xavier Beccera charged Daleiden and Merritt with 14 counts each of invasion of privacy.