.- The U.S. Department of Justice dropped its case against a pro-life sidewalk counselor and agreed to pay $120,000 for the lawsuit after a federal judge ruled that the case should never have been brought to court.
“I think this sends a strong message that pro-lifers will not be intimidated into silence,” said Mathew Staver, founder the nonprofit group Liberty Counsel, which represented sidewalk counselor Mary Susan Pine.
Staver told CNA on April 3 that from the very beginning, the case against Pine was weak.
Department officials claimed that she had violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law by preventing a car from accessing the Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. on one occasion in Nov. 2009.
The department sought thousands of dollars in fines and a permanent injunction to prohibit Pine from counseling women outside the clinic.
Staver explained that the allegations centered around Pine walking up to an approaching car, whose passengers stopped, rolled down the window, accepted literature from her and proceeded on their way to the abortion clinic.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. asserted that “various persons are being, have been, and will continue to be injured” by Pine’s conduct.
Federal Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp disagreed, throwing out the case in December with a statement that the Department of Justice had failed to present evidence of wrongdoing.
“The Court is at a loss as to why the Government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place,” he wrote.
Judge Ryskamp explained that the court was left to wonder “whether this action was the product of a concerted effort” between the government and the abortion clinic, “which began well before the date of the incident at issue.”
He also questioned whether the case had been brought by the Department of Justice in order “to quell Ms. Pine’s activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine’s conduct.”
Staver said that it was the first time he had ever seen a federal court chastise the Department of Justice.
Nonetheless, the department appealed the decision and indicated that President Obama had ordered it to do so.
Staver explained that he was surprised when the department decided to appeal, but was not surprised by the April 2 announcement that the case would be dropped.
“On appeal, they knew they weren’t going to have a strong argument,” he said. “They didn’t have any basis at all.”
In a statement, Staver called the case an “irresponsible” attempt by the Department of Justice to “place politics above principle.”
“When the nation’s highest law enforcement officer files suit against any citizen, the suit must be based on the law coupled with compelling evidence,” he said. “Anything less is an abuse of the high office.”
Staver welcomed the April 2 announcement as an affirmation that Pine will be able to continue “her mission to save the lives of innocent children.”