A federal judge refused to grant a new trial Monday in the false-arrest case of five anti-abortion demonstrators outside the Womancare clinic, saying there wasn't any new evidence presented to link the pickets to the Rev. Dorman Owens and the Bible Missionary Fellowship.
The demonstrators, including Cheryl Sullenger, were awarded a total of $60,000 in September after a jury determined that Womancare officials violated their civil rights by mistaking them for pickets associated with the Santee church, which is under a court injunction to limit its activities outside the clinic.
The five pickets were placed under citizen's arrest in October, 1985, by Womancare officials when the protesters demonstrated in front of the clinic, 2850 6th Ave. The Womancare officials believed at the time that the demonstrators were associated with Owens and his church, thus violating the court order.
After a September trial, a U.S. District Court jury determined that the five pickets were not affiliated with Owens and his anti-abortion followers and, therefore, there was no basis for their arrest.
But in November, seven people identified as members of the Bible Missionary Fellowship--including Owens and Sullenger--were indicted for conspiring to bomb another abortion clinic.
Showed Relationship Existed
It was on that basis that Womancare officials asked for the new trial in the false-arrest case. They contended that the bombing conspiracy showed that at least one demonstrator--Sullenger--was active in Owens' church.
Howard Dickstein, an attorney representing the clinic, said Monday that the alleged bombing conspiracy showed that a relationship did exist between Sullenger and Owens, and that their association probably could be traced back to when the October, 1985, arrests were made at Womancare.
He told the judge that the five demonstrators and the Owens pickets were members of other anti-abortion groups that had met together, discussed demonstration activities and shared legal strategies.
"There was evidence they knew each other and had even talked at one time or another to Dorman Owens' attorney," Dickstein said.
However, U.S. District Judge Earl B. Gilliam noted that the jury had already determined there was no link between Sullenger and Owens. He also said he saw no new connection in the mere fact that Sullenger and Owens were later indicted in the unrelated bombing conspiracy.
"There was no new evidence then, just like you have no evidence now that they were acting in concert," he said.
Gilliam also ruled that Womancare must pay $27,450 in attorney fees to Lloyd Edward Tooks, who represented the five demonstrators.
After Monday's hearing, Dickstein said he will appeal the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He said that as evidence is disclosed in the bombing case, it will become clear that Sullenger and Owens maintained a relationship that dated back to the time of the October, 1985, false arrests.
"We expect to find out what the relationship was between Cheryl Sullenger and Dorman Owens," he said. "And we expect to find out that it was to a greater extent than we now know."
However, Tooks said he is "not worried at all" about any new evidence from the criminal trial linking the two anti-abortion groups.
He said the U.S. attorney's office has told him that it has already gathered all its evidence in the case and does not foresee any new documentation to show that an earlier relationship existed.