Harris County DA drops charges against video fraudsters

Disappointing, to say the least.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Criminal charges against the anti-abortion activists behind undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were dismissed Tuesday.

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. A court clerk confirmed that the Harris County district attorney’s office filed the motion to dismiss the case against Daleiden and Merritt.

Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in a statement that Texas limits what can be investigated after a grand jury term gets extended, which happened in this case.

“In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments,” Anderson said.

The misdemeanor charge against Daleiden was dismissed by the judge in June. The defense had filed a motion back in April to dismiss the felony charges on the grounds that the grand jury had not been properly empaneled, and the fraudsters rejected a plea deal later in April. If you’re wondering why now, when there hadn’t yet been a hearing on the defense motions, the DA’s office decided to throw in the towel, you’re not alone.

The decision came as a surprise because the district attorney’s office had argued at length in a 30-page motion filed in May that the issue about the grand jury’s term was “meritless.”

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer said Tuesday’s decision was based on a political calculation by a Republican incumbent who has drawn criticism for pursuing the case. It also came just days after sharp criticism of the DA’s office in an unrelated case over the jailing of a mentally ill rape victim to ensure she would testify.

“I think it smacks of a politically expedient decision made from the highest levels of the office,” Schaffer said. “It was an easy out for a district attorney who had already received a lot of heat from her party over this case and had received a lot of heat this week for the handling of another case, one involving a rape victim.”

If prosecutors were concerned about a technical error over the grand jury extension, he said, they could have remedied it months ago by taking it to another grand jury. The district attorney’s office could still file charges, he noted.

“I do not think what happened in this case was based on law or the facts,” he said. “It was based on politics.”


The lawyers had scheduled a hearing before state District Judge Brock Thomas in which they were expected to argue the grand jurors were improperly empaneled longer than their standard three-month term, rendering any indictments null and void.

Instead of arguing the point, prosecutors agreed in a surprise move that the defense raised a “colorable claim” and dismissed all of the charges.


Political and legal observers said the dismissal is understandable given the amount of resources it would have taken to prosecute versus the likely outcome.

“If I were writing the prosecutorial memo, it seems like this case would be a whole lot of work that would, at best, end up with a slap on the wrist,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the newly named Houston College of Law. “There are bigger fish to fry in Houston.”

Corn said Anderson should not be criticized for using her discretion to dismiss a case that would expend county resources for a minor conviction.

“These were a couple of zealots who were overreaching and gaming the system,” he said. “DA’s have to make hard decisions about where to allocate resources. This seems to make sense to me.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I cannot evaluate the merits of the defense’s arguments or the reasons why the prosecution decided to buy into them. What Professor Corn says makes some sense, but one might ask why they didn’t make that calculation before taking this to a grand jury in the first place. It’s not like they couldn’t have seen this cost/benefit calculation coming from that vantage point. I can’t say what motivated Devon Anderson to change course now, but the timing of it sure is funny.

One more thing:

“The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Yep. This is the very definition of “getting off on a technicality”. Let us not lose sight of that. The Press and the Current have more.

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4 Responses to Harris County DA drops charges against video fraudsters

  1. matx says:

    Listening to the radio on my way home yesterday, there was conjecture that Anderson dropped it to appease Republican party to get/maintain their support for the election.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    Anderson was not the one pushing for the duo to be prosecuted, though some of her detractors have used the complete lack of understanding most people have of how the system works to pin it on her personally. As the defense chipped away at the case, holding the state accountable for all those little nuances that must be in place to try someone, the ability of the case to be fairly heard was compromised to the point where the DA would have to fall on her own sword for the decreasing chance of a conviction. Why bother?

  3. C.L. says:

    First the ‘We’re going to jail the rape victim’ strike, then this acquiescense to local GOP pressure. If you have a case and there’s a question as to whether the Grand Jury empaneled had the authority to true bill it [or even hear the case], present it to the next panel. She scored points with her base by turning the tables on the real perpetrators of the crime, then lost their support by dropping the case. Anderson’s done.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    CL, I assure you that Anderson’s GOP base were the ones attacking her the loudest over the indictments as though she personally drove the whole matter, a couple of vocal precinct chairs telling me as much at a local meeting. She gained points with the undecided and those who are familiar with Kimbra Ogg by going against her base, now losing some of that support if the matter is dropped. I have yet to hear how Ms. Ogg would have handled the case of the witness that stated repeatedly how she wasn’t coming back to testify or how she would proceed with the Daleiden and Merritt cases, apparently she is still following the advice of her yellow journalist pal instead. 🙂

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