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Abortion Protest Arrestees Force Slowdown in Court

Times Staff Writers

More than 300 jailed Operation Rescue demonstrators jammed Los Angeles arraignment courts Monday, withholding their names for hours in their determination to go on trial to further publicize their contention that abortion is murder.

The arraignment process moved with excruciating slowness--just as the arrestees intended.

By late Monday night, only 17 of them had been released, and it looked as though a great number would spend another night in jail. The 17 were let go after prosecutors, who could not find their files, decided not to file charges.

Others, buoyed by reports that charges against their leaders were being reduced, finally relented and relinquished their anonymity. One by one, they gave court officials their names, Social Security numbers and ages so that the arraignment process could inch forward at last.

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Each, in turn, then pleaded “not guilty” to such misdemeanor charges as trespassing, resisting arrest and blocking a public street. Trial for each was set on April 14.

Still other “John Does” and “Jane Does” awaited their turns.

“We’re up to our eyeballs,” Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Alice Hand had groaned hours earlier, as she and her colleagues began to realize just how long it all would take.

“They’re all ‘John Does,’ she had explained. “That’s why we’re having a hard time. It throws everything into chaos. . . . We probably won’t get done until midnight.”

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It was not until 5:15 p.m. that Municipal Court Commissioner David A. Stephens announced that paper work had reached him and he was prepared to proceed. But, he said, the attorneys had to go over all the cases “and apparently they are not yet ready.”

Only two defense attorneys, Mary Murphy Quintero and Robert Sassone, were on hand to represent any demonstrators who wanted them.

At one point, the city attorney’s office made a blanket offer of straight probation if the arrestees would plead guilty or no contest. The offer was turned down.

It was well past 7 p.m., when the first groups of arrestees began filing into two of the courtrooms on Bauchet Street near the Men’s Central County Jail--the men in Division 82, the women in Division 80. It had been a long day in the holding tanks for all of them, and they showed it, sitting in subdued silence on the wooden courtroom benches until their individual cases were called.

The city attorney’s office asked that bail be set at $3,000, but the courts decided to stay with the original figure of $250.

Officials said only those with photo identification would be released Monday night. In a show of solidarity, some with identification chose to remain in jail.

While his followers were awaiting their arraignments, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and three associates learned that they apparently will not face felony charges.

Referred Case

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The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to issue such a complaint and referred the case to the city attorney for possible misdemeanor action, district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.

However, late Monday, the city attorney’s office said the Los Angeles Police Department was seeking to have the felony charges filed.

Police sought a complaint charging Terry, 29; Michael McMonagle, 36; Donald Benette, 35, and Andrew Eppink, 41, with conspiracy to commit unlawful assembly.

More than 700 members of Operation Rescue were arrested Saturday as they tried to blockade a Koreatown-area women’s medical center on the third and final day of the “Holy Week of Rescue.” The demonstrations by the organization seeking to close Southern California abortion clinics were staged at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is about to reconsider the abortion question.

More than half of the arrested demonstrators had identified themselves and bailed out of jail over the weekend. But those who remained were determined to go to trial.

“We want to put forth the case of the unborn child,” Joseph Foreman, national field director for Operation Rescue, said Sunday.

The result was the long, slow day at the courtrooms at 441 Bauchet St., as the demonstrators were brought by Sheriff’s Department buses from various jail facilities.

Beth Dailey, a woman arrestee who relented early and gave her name in order to get released at midday Monday, explained that her sister in New York needed a blood transfusion and that she, Dailey, was the only possible donor.

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Commissioner Stephens plodded through the routine of arraigning the usual weekend collection of suspected drunks, wife beaters and bar brawlers while he waited for prosecutors to ready the cases against the demonstrators.

As the buses headed toward Bauchet Street, Stephens mused aloud, “Are we gonna put them in the Bloods tank or the Crips tank? Wait’ll they see the metal toilets and the baloney sandwiches.”

By midafternoon, he observed, “Well, they ate their lunch, and they haven’t begun to tear the concrete out of the walls yet.”

Then he went back to processing the weekend backlog of misdemeanor cases. When a toothless, elderly man accused of breaking a window said he did not want to “languish in jail,” Stephens advised him to talk to one of the free, available “anti-languishing lawyers.”

Resolve Matter

Despite the slowdown, Presiding Municipal Judge Larry P. Fidler said, “It does not prevent us from doing our job. It just takes that much longer to get it done. We’re prepared to work as many hours as it takes to get the matter resolved.”

A small group of Operation Rescue supporters gathered outside the courtrooms, where they formed a circle, held hands and prayed.

One woman asked God to “break open these walls and let our men go.”

A male member of the group said, “Please, let us not lose sight of why we’re here--that there are babies still being murdered.”

Long Beach police avoided arresting any of the demonstrators who tried to block the entrances of a small women’s clinic in that city Friday, but it was a different story on Saturday in Los Angeles.

“It’s been a long, long time since we arrested this many people at a single incident,” Los Angeles police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth said Monday.

Although he conceded that the arrestees were making the process difficult, Booth declared, “They don’t create so many problems that we wouldn’t do the same thing if (it) happened again.”

He described the situation as “a large lump going through the system” but added, “We will pass the lump.”

Pointing out that trespassing, resisting arrest, interfering with a police officer and the other charges are crimes, Booth observed, “It’s so darn foolish to think you have to do this to make the nation listen to you. They are following some very foolish leadership.”

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said Monday that he was “enormously proud of the manner in which (the officers) responded.”

“The strategical planning, the execution of tactics, the exercise of individual discipline, patience, restraint and tolerance were obvious to all objective observers,” he said.

Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony released a statement Monday in which he criticized pro-choice activists, saying they “support taking the life of an unborn child.”

He urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“I hope and pray that the court will see clearly the flawed reasoning (in Roe vs. Wade) and once again restore the right to life to every person from the moment of conception to natural death,” he said.

Representatives of the pro-choice group Coalition for Safe and Legal Abortions said they will organize public information campaigns, rallies and community forums to stir public support for the continued legalization of abortions.

Times staff writers Ginger Thompson and Jack Jones contributed to this article.


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