[floridaleft] [FL reproductive rights] Harasser or harassed? (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at SPAMfreenet.tlh.fl.us
Thu Jan 4 13:55:05 MST 2001


forwarded by Michael Hoover

> Harasser or  harassed?
>
> BY TERESA EVERLINE
> [The Orlando Weekly, Dec. 28, 2000]
>
> In 1989 Ocala's only abortion clinic was destroyed by a firebomb. Nearly 10
> years later someone was brave enough to set up another abortion clinic
> there. Now that establishment is in danger, but not from a bomb or even
> from local protesters'threats. The problem has come from federal
> prosecutors.
>
> Dr. James Pendergraft is being charged with conspiracy to extort money from
> Marion County, based on comments he allegedly made while suing the county
> for not adequately protecting his Ocala abortion clinic. Pendergraft
> operates five Florida clinics, two of which are in Orlando. He's an
> accomplished ob/gyn - trained in high-risk pregnancies, and he is
> unflinching in his fight to eliminate any barriers to performing a
> procedure that the U.S. Supreme Court declared legal more than 25 years
> ago. Yet he continues to face roadblocks to his practice. The difficulty he
> had opening his first Orlando clinic may have given him a taste of things
> to come.
>
> In 1995, Orlando city officials weren't happy to learn that Pendergraft
> planned to open an office near Lucerne Circle. After he renovated the
> building, off~cials rejected his application to open a medical of fice.
> They argued that the recovery time for certain procedures required a
> license for a clinic, not an office, and the area was zoned only for offices
> and homes. Pendergraft sued, eventually receiving $125,000 and his business
> license.
>
> Such tactics are familiar territory in the abortion wars. "Unfortunately,
> there are communities in this country where hostile government officials
> refuse to provide protection" to abortion providers, says Vicki Saporta,
> director of the National Abortion Federation. Saporta reels off some of the
> typical offenses: not allowing off-duty police of ficers to work as
> security guards at clinics; not enforcing injunctions; not enforcing
> trespassing laws.
>
> Pendergraft's Orlando experience might not have been unique, but in general
> his way of conducting business lends itself to controversy. He markets his
> clinics on billboards. He doesn't hide the fact that he performs abortions
> as late as 28 weeks into pregnancy. At Orlando clubs he has distributed
> condoms promoting his clinic. Naturally, his bold stance infuriates the
> antichoice ranks, but it also causes some prochoicers to bristle.
> Pendergraft is seen as too aggressive in his competitive tactics and too
> unabashed in his pursuit of profits. His public comments are blunt. He
> doesn't lie low. He's been accused of engaging in the McDonaldization of
> abortion. As a result, other abortion providers praise his medical skills
> but tend to keep their distance.
>
> Nonetheless, all abortion providers are joined together by the harassment
> and the threats they must face on an ongoing basis. Pendergraft, after all,
> wears a bulletproof vest to work. He had been included on a bloody-looking
> anti-abortion website, since shut down, that listed the names of abortion
> providers - with black lines through the names of those killed.
>
> * * *
>
> "I didn't really know what I was getting into in Ocala," Pendergraft told
> the St. Petersburg Times two years ago, "but I probably would have done it
> anyway if I had. Probably."
>
> He opened his clinic there in 1998, even though it was clear that county of
> ficials didn't want him. "What they did," says Pendergraft's spokesperson,
> Marti Mackenzie, "was send him a letter saying please don't come to our
> community - and it was on of ficial stationery." Not only have protesters
> gathered outside the clinic on a daily basis, but Pendergraft has had
> difficulty getting plumbers, painters and such to work for him there.
>
> In late 1998 Pendergraft sued Ocala and Marion County for not allowing
> off-duty police officers to work as security guards at the clinic. He also
> wanted a buffer zone from the daily protesters who waved signs, pushed baby
> carriages and photographed women entering the clinic. He won a preliminary
> injunction in the security-guard issue, but his lawyer, S. LeRoy Lucas, let
> the case languish. "Roy Lucas failed to meet certain deadlines," Mackenzie
> explains. The case therefore was dismissed a year ago.
>
> But that case turned out to be the basis of the charges recently brought
> against Pendergraft and his associate Michael Spielvogel.
>
> Spielvogel had informed the FBI that he was being threatened by Marion
> County Commissioner Larry Cretul. The FBI determined, however, that
> Spielvogel was Iying, and they began audio and video taping conversations
> that Pendergraft and Spielvogel had with Ocala of ficials.
>
> After threatening to file a lawsuit against the city that wouldn't protect
> his clinic, the doctor was charged with extortion

> Now, based on those conversations, the two men are charged with conspiring to
> extort millions of dollars from Marion County by making false and
> fraudulent statements in an attempt to win a big settlement in
> Pendergraft's civil lawsuit. If found guilty, Pendergraft could face 30
> years in prison, the loss of.his medical license and a $750,000 fine.
>
> The basis of the prosecution's case? Attorney Lucas, in trying to negotiate
> a big settlement from the city for its lack of protection, reportedly
> stated he would "try to bankrupt the county," with Pendergraft chiming in,
> "Not try. We will bankrupt the county."
>
> Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Deveraux, who is prosecuting the case, did not
> return phone calls.
>
> Pendergraft's supporters insist that the case is about abortion, not
> extortion - that a conservative local government has managed to get the
> U.S. Justice Department involved in its crusade to run Pendergraft out of
> town. Spokesperson Mackenzie notes that there are basic similarities
> between what the doctor went through in Orlando and what he's currently
> experiencing in Ocala: "In both cases Dr. Pendergraft was aggressively sent
> a message" that he was unwelcome. In the case of Marion County, she adds
> "These are anti-abortion people, elected officials, trying to impose their
> personal agendas to discourage Dr. Pendergraft."
>
> Saporta, of the National Abortion Federation, says "The prosecution appears
> to be caiculated to punish Dr. Pendergra.ft for pursuing his legal rights."
> She fears the result will be a "chilling effect" - that abortion providers
> will be "discouraged ... from taking legal action that could be critical to
> their own protection."
>
> The trial is set to begin Jan. 2.





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