September/October, 1997 Volume XII Number 8
RICO convictions against pro-lifers overturned
Richmond, VA -- Pro-life activists in Greenville, South Carolina rejoiced after a seven-year battle to clear themselves of federal charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in July overturned the racketeering and trespassing civil convictions of 40 rescuers in 1990. The lower court had ordered the rescuers to pay $120,000 in damages. It was considered to be a groundbreaking case in its use of RICO statutes to end rescues.
"All I can say is praise the Lord," said Steve LaFemine, one of the defendants and director of Columbia Sidewalk Counseling.
Michael Cloer, a local pastor, and one of the other defendants, said, "This thing has been hanging over us for seven years and I am elated that the abortion clinic will not get the $120,000."
The case stemmed from a 1989 series of rescues at the Palmetto State Medical Center in Greenville. Operation Rescue and Operation Lifeline were the two leading organizations behind the rescues and were included in the lawsuit.
The federal court has sent back the trespassing convictions of six of the defendants -- including Cloer -- for a new trial, but Randy Hiller, attorney for the clinic, said that it is unlikely that they will retry the case.
"It's too old," he said.
Cloer sees the benefit of the appeals court decision as a reduction in the fear that many pro-life activists have about continuing protests. Many, he said, were afraid to come out to picket at the clinics because of the lawsuit.
"There will be more [protesters] now when they hear that the lawsuit has been overturned," he said.
Attorney for the rescuers, David Wesley Holmes, said, "This is the first case involving pro-life people where money was awarded under RICO that has been reversed. I think that's significant."
Copyright © 1997 Advocates for Life Ministries