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Judge skeptical of anti-abortion group’s bias claims

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2016 file photo, David Daleiden, center, one of the two anti-abortion activists who released secretly recorded videos alleging that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers, addresses the media with attorneys Jared Woodfill, left, and Terry Yates after turning himself in to authorities in Houston. w judge should disqualify himself from a lawsuit over an anti-abortion group's videos says he could not readily discern any appearance of bias. U.S. District Court Judge James Donato said Thursday, June 22, 2017, he was having trouble understanding how Judge William Orrick's affiliation with a non-profit and two Facebook "likes" by Orrick's wife created an appearance of bias against defendant David Daleiden. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A U.S. District Court judge deciding whether a fellow judge should disqualify himself from lawsuits over videos by an anti-abortion group said Thursday he could not immediately see any appearance of bias.

Judge James Donato said during a hearing he was “having trouble understanding” how Judge William Orrick’s affiliation with a nonprofit group and two Facebook “likes” by Orrick’s wife created an appearance of bias against defendant David Daleiden.

Donato did not immediately issue a ruling on Daleiden’s request to disqualify Orrick.

Daleiden is a leader of the Center for Medical Progress, which has released videos that it says show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has denied that claim and said the videos were deceptively edited.

The videos stoked the American abortion debate when they were released in 2015 and intensified congressional scrutiny of Planned Parenthood that has yet to subside.

Daleiden is seeking to disqualify Orrick from presiding over two lawsuits — one by Planned Parenthood and the other by the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion providers. In both cases, Daleiden says Orrick has a longstanding relationship with an organization that partners with Planned Parenthood and his wife “liked” Facebook posts critical of Daleiden.

Donato said the organization at issue — Good Samaritan Family Resource Center — was separate from Planned Parenthood and Orrick was on its board years before the National Abortion Federation lawsuit.

He also expressed skepticism about the Facebook “likes.”

“When do we ever assume that a spouse necessarily has the same view as her husband,” Donato questioned an attorney for Daleiden, Catherine Short.

Short said a picture of Orrick and his wife were next to the “likes,” and she said the judge had not said his views were independent from his wife’s.

Orrick has blocked the Center for Medical Progress from releasing videos made at National Abortion Federation meetings and airing the names of its members.

Orrick said in a court filing that he was concerned about the timing of the attempt to disqualify him. Daleiden moved to remove Orrick from the case days before he was facing a contempt hearing before the judge.

Orrick was considering holding Daleiden in contempt after links to videos that the judge had barred from release in the National Abortion Federation case and the names of at least 11 NAF members appeared on the website of two of Daleiden’s other attorneys.

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