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Planned Parenthood of San Mateo, Calif., can keep the names and addresses of its workers out of the hands of abortion protesters, a California 1st District Court of Appeal panel said Monday. In a big win for privacy advocates and abortion-rights activists, Justice Paul Haerle said the right to privacy outweighs the right of abortion protesters to obtain such information for litigation purposes. Doing so, he said, could place the workers in harm’s way. “In this particular case, the privacy interests of the non-parties are strong because disclosure would threaten these individuals’ peace and safety,” Haerle wrote in Planned Parenthood of Golden Gate v. Superior Court, A090162. “The state’s interest in promoting strength in litigation is comparatively weak. In other words, real parties have not demonstrated a need for discovery.” Haerle, who was joined in the opinion by Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline and Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, said a superior court discovery order, which required the clinic to divulge the information, went too far. In 1998, abortion protester Rossi Foti sued Planned Parenthood for, among other things, alleged defamation, battery and civil rights violations. Planned Parenthood’s cross-complaint claimed that the protesters’ confrontational tactics interfered with its patients’ constitutional right to privacy. Attorneys for Foti and other protesters named in the cross-complaint responded by moving to compel Planned Parenthood to disclose the names, addresses and telephone numbers of every staff member and volunteer who had seen or written a report about their protest activities at the San Mateo clinic. A discovery referee ordered Planned Parenthood to disclose the names of the witnesses, and San Mateo Superior Court Judge Phrasel Shelton agreed the names could be released, but only to the parties involved. Haerle called the order an abuse of discretion. “We simply fail to perceive how permitting [Foti] to personally confront these potential witnesses at their home promotes the state’s interest in protecting truth in litigation or any other compelling state interest,” Haerle wrote. Haerle’s decision also took into account the existence of an Internet site, called the “Nuremburg Files,” which lists information about abortion clinic workers and strikes out the names of those workers who have been murdered. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood argued before the court on Aug. 13 that the Web site is an example of the kind of danger the staff and volunteers might face if their personal information were known. “The Nuremburg Files Web site is specific evidence that Planned Parenthood’s staff and volunteers could well face unique and very real threats not just to their privacy, but to their safety and well-being if personal information about them is disclosed,” Haerle wrote.

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