UPDATED: AP report: Houston grand jury didn’t vote on charges against Planned Parenthood

The already troubling story about DA Devon Anderson and the indictment David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt has the strong odor of corruption, cronyism, and political careerism

UPDATED (Jan. 28, 2016): Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has released a statement, via video, in response to criticisms of her handling of the indictments against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. She said, in part:

“The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn’t always lead where you want to go. Anyone who pays attention knows that I’m pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong, but my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law.

“I would like to address some of the comments that have been made in the last few days.

“First, at a press conference today, the defense attorneys asked me re-present the investigation to another grand jury. I am not going to do that. We have a long standing policy against grand jury shopping. That means when a grand jury comes back with a decision we don’t like we don’t go and find another one to get the result we want. That violates the integrity of the whole system. The only time we re-present is if new evidence comes to light. Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken and I respect their decision even if it conflicts with my personal beliefs.”

A couple of thoughts, based on what I wrote yesterday (below). First, this case is not about the legality of abortion but about the illegal sale of body parts from aborted children. That smells like a ripe red herring to me.

Secondly, she does not discuss what was presented or how it was presented. Did she and her staff ever present possible charges against Planned Parenthood? Is it true, as the AP reported a PP lawyer claiming, that the grand jury never even voted on possible criminal charges against PP? If that is true, why not?

Third, her statement resolves nothing and offers no new insights into what did or didn’t happen. If anything, it only accentuates the stench of ripe herring and political rot.

January 27, 2016: Houston, you have a problem:

Planned Parenthood attorney Josh Schaffer said a prosecutor told him the grand jury never even voted on possible criminal charges against the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Not that the AP sees it as a problem:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Houston prosecutor handling the only criminal case to date over stealth video of Planned Parenthood clinics around the U.S. has infuriated anti-abortion activists before: In 2013, a grand jury on her watch cleared a doctor accused of ending late-term pregnancies.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican originally appointed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is now watching her party fume after she announced a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue — and instead indicted the makers of undercover video widely embraced by the GOP. But those who know the former judge say she is no ideologue and won’t buckle to politics.

Anderson’s announcement this week was surprising. Not only do grand juries rarely turn the tables on those making the criminal accusations, but Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged Anderson to investigate based on footage that accused a Houston clinic of illegally selling fetal tissue for profit.

When Anderson was up for election in 2014, she ran as “proud, pro-life Texan mother of two” and was backed by the wealthy GOP elite. But the case against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, anti-abortion activists who live in California, is now perhaps Anderson’s most visible case since she first took office in 2013.

It’s all new to me, but this is, well, interesting:

Anderson was barely three months into office when the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue accused a Houston doctor of performing late-term abortions. The activist behind those allegations, Troy Newman, was also a founding member of the Center for Medical Progress — the anti-abortion group headed by Daleiden, whose videos set off investigations by Congress and Republican efforts to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.

Operation Rescue had released disturbing photos and accusations from the former staff of Dr. Douglas Karpen. A grand jury declined to indict Karpen; the abortion provider’s lawyer, Chip Lewis, said Karpen was smeared by doctored pictures and false allegations made by individuals who were paid by Operation Rescue.

Lewis, a longtime political donor in Houston whose beneficiaries include Anderson, said he helped soften the political fallout for her in Republican circles.

“I told them, ‘Don’t hitch your wagon to this. They’re crooks, and it’s going to be exposed,'” Lewis said, referring to Operation Rescue.

So, the lawyer who is a major donor to Anderson (and her late husband, the former DA, Mike Anderson), represented an abortionist, Douglas Karpen, who faced charges in 2013 of “delivering live fetuses during third-trimester abortions and killing them by either snipping their spinal cord, stabbing a surgical instrument into their heads or ‘twisting their heads off their necks with his own bare hands’.” Karpen claimed it was a set-up by Operation Rescue, while Operation Rescue pointed to Karpen’s history, the testimony of four former employees, and photographs—more than what proved sufficient to convict Kermit Gosnells in Philadelphia in 2013.

Further, in March 2015 Don Hooper of BigJollyPolitics.com, a conservative website focused on corruption in Texas politics, reported that Lewis donated over $25,000 to Devon Anderson in 2014 alone and that $12,000 he had donated in 2012 and 2013 to her husband (who died in August 2013 of cancer) was transferred to her campaign account. Coincidence? Curiosity? 

From the AP story:

Anderson’s handling of both cases is also questioned by Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion group that endorsed the district attorney in 2014.

Spokeswoman Melissa Conway would not go so far as to say Texas Right to Life now regrets that endorsement. But she said Anderson “turned a blind eye” and that politicians often “masquerade as pro-life.”

“It’s incomprehensible,” Conway said of Anderson’s actions.

Anderson acknowledged in August that a prosecutor on her staff was a board member of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic but said that person would not be involved in the grand jury case. In a statement announcing Monday’s charges, Anderson said, “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”

Lewis said the assistant prosecutor who oversaw the Karpen investigation also handled the Planned Parenthood case. “I don’t think she forgot what she uncovered,” Lewis said. A spokesman for Anderson, Jeff McShan, said he could not confirm whether the same assistant prosecutor handled both investigations.

Goodness. I’m not a legal expert, of course, but I sat on a grand jury here in Lane County, Oregon, for several weeks a couple of months ago, and I know that—at least in Oregon (and I assume elsewhere)—that the prosecutor presents the charges he wishes to bring, and then presents the evidence. The grand jury then votes on whether or not it thinks the evidence is good enough to uphold the charges. Which is why this paragraph in a New York Times story caught my attention:

Texas Republican leaders issued defiant statements in response to the Houston indictment, vowing to continue the state’s investigation into the videos recorded in Houston in April at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. But Ms. Anderson has a far tougher role to play. She took the case to the grand jurors, presented them with evidence from a monthslong investigation and appeared to have allowed them to come to their own conclusions, however politically unpalatable it may have turned out for conservatives. The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. [emphasis added]

Yes, of course they are supposed to come to their own conclusions—but about the charges and evidence presented. A DA and their office is going to point the grand jury is this or that direction, and then the grand jury is supposed to decide if what they find on that particular path warrants a trial on charges X, Y, and Z. If the AP report is correct in stating that there was never even a vote on the criminal charges against Planned Parenthood, then it seems safe to say this entire situation stinks to high heaven of corruption and politicians looking to advance their careers, evidence be damned. Which makes this, from the Grey Lady, that much more ironic. Or ridiculous:

Josh Schaffer, a Houston lawyer who represents Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said he was skeptical when Ms. Anderson began her investigation that it would be fair in “the toxic political landscape in Texas regarding Planned Parenthood.” But he said that she assembled a team that included impartial prosecutors and Texas Rangers, and exhibited courage and independence.

“We should all hope that her fortitude in the eye of this political storm is a harbinger of her intent to conduct business the right way, instead of being a political pawn for politicians,” Mr. Schaffer said. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.