A federal judge in Los Angeles today found the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and 12 of its protesters guilty of civil contempt for disobeying his order last spring not to block the entrances of women's clinics.
U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima levied $111,000 in attorneys' fees against Operation Rescue and the 12 protesters and said he will leave it to the plaintiffs to decide how to divide the collection.
Tashima, calling the anti-abortion group members "hypocrites" and likening their legal arguments to sales pitches used by "used-car dealers," also levied fines of $10,000 on each defendant, but the fines were suspended unless the defendants again violate the court order.
Tashima began reviewing the contempt allegations in June at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the clinics, individual women and groups opposing Operation Rescue.
The ACLU alleged that Operation Rescue and 12 of its members violated Tashima's March 13 order, which told the group not to block the entrances of clinics offering abortions.
'To Take Responsibility'
The order covered areas of Chico, Fresno, Oakland, Escondido, Los Angeles, Cypress and Long Beach, where Operation Rescue members held civil disobedience demonstrations during last spring's "National Week of Rescue."
Tashima characterized the protests as civil disobedience, rejecting the defendants' argument that they were forced to violate the court order because they were involved in a battle to save lives.
"For the act to have some meaning, you have to take responsibility of that act, or else it strips their acts of meaning. You become no better than an ordinary lawbreaker," he said.
But Cyrus Val, an attorney for Operation Rescue, said his clients were rescuing unborn babies, not conducting civil disobedience. He added that Operation Rescue is not a legal entity capable of being sued or paying fines.
Of 20 Operation Rescue defendants originally sued by the ACLU on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, Tashima found a dozen individuals in contempt of court.
Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry and four followers are on trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, facing charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, blocking an entrance and failing to disperse.