Feds, protester settle suit over clinic access

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Associated Press

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 11:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and an anti-abortion protester have settled a lawsuit alleging that he illegally grabbed and pushed a volunteer escort outside a women's health clinic in Louisville.

Terms of the settlement were not immediately available Tuesday. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin placed a notice of settlement in the court file and gave federal attorneys and lawyers for David Hamilton 30 days to execute a detailed settlement agreement.

Vince Heuser, the attorney for Hamilton, described the settlement as being reached without an injunction or fine and "for a nominal amount."

"It has been a colossal waste of taxpayer money and an abuse of the rights of pro-lifers across the nation," said Heuser, who worked with the Life Legal Defense Foundation of Napa, Calif., on the lawsuit. "David had to make a difficult decision, but the settlement once again thwarts the plan of the Obama administration to get an injunction against pro-lifers."

The settlement stems from a lawsuit brought in December 2010 by the Justice Department against Hamilton, a former Louisville resident, accusing him of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The law, enacted in 1994, prohibits the use or threat of physical force or obstruction to prevent someone from entering a clinic and intentional damage to a reproductive health care facility or a place of worship.

The law does allow protesters to carry signs, sing hymns and shout without making threats outside of clinics, but protesters are prohibited from blocking entrances, committing acts of vandalism or physically stopping anyone from trying to enter a clinic.

A trial in the case had been set to start Jan. 15 in federal court in Louisville.

From President Bill Clinton's signing of the measure into law and 2005, the Department of Justice obtained the convictions of 71 people in 46 criminal prosecutions for violations of the law. Also, the Justice Department brought 17 civil lawsuits under the law, resulting in injunctive relief, damages, and penalties

The federal government accused Hamilton of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act on Jan. 30, 2010, outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville.

Federal attorneys sought an order prohibiting Hamilton from getting within eight feet of anyone obtaining or providing reproductive health services and from being within 100 feet of the entrance to the center. They also asked for a $15,000 penalty.

Hamilton was a regular protester at the clinic, which provides reproductive health services. Justice Department attorneys say Hamilton was determined to confront a woman before she entered. Upon approaching her, however, Hamilton encountered Jane Fitts, a volunteer escort at the clinic who was accompanying the woman toward the door. Federal attorneys say Hamilton, a former semi-pro basketball player, pushed Fitts, leaving her arm bruised in two places.

Hamilton, who now lives in Houston, denied the allegations. In an April 7, 2011 affidavit filed in the court record, Hamilton said he visited the clinic three times between May 21, 2010 and June 12, 2010, before moving to Texas.

"I have not visited the abortion clinic since that time," Hamilton said.

Heuser said Fitts will receive a "nominal" amount in the settlement.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

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Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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