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Judge: Activist can shield ‘ministerial’ visits

  • Associated Press
  • Published Friday, April 19, 2013, at 7:35 p.m.

A Valley Center abortion opponent doesn’t have to disclose ministerial discussions she had with the man who killed abortion provider George Tiller, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten reversed a magistrate judge’s decision that Angel Dillard’s communications with convicted murderer Scott Roeder were not protected because she was not an ordained minister. Marten found that Dillard, of Valley Center, was acting as a lay minister.

The ruling comes in a 2011 lawsuit filed against Dillard by the Justice Department’s civil rights division under a federal law aimed at protecting access to reproductive services.

The government has accused her of sending a threatening letter to Mila Means, a physician who was training to offer abortion services after Tiller’s 2009 shooting death. Court filings indicate Means eventually decided against the plan.

The government says the letter mentioned Tiller’s death, and its lawyers are trying to show Dillard’s relationship with Roeder heightened Means’ fears.

In his 26-page decision, Marten also ruled Dillard must disclose communications with another inmate, Robert Campbell, who claims Dillard hired him to stalk Means. Court documents show Dillard contributed $25 to Campbell’s prison inmate account. Dillard contends that after Campbell was released from prison, he demanded $2,000 and tried to blackmail her.

"Whether Dillard or Campbell is telling the truth is irrelevant; both versions of the relationship are incompatible with a claim of clergy-penitent privilege," the judge wrote.

The judge also cast doubt on whether a jury will ever hear about any of Campbell’s claims, saying such evidence could ultimately be excluded from the trial, which is set for October.

At issue in the case is whether the letter the government says Dillard wrote to Means was a "true threat." In it, Dillard allegedly wrote that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means’ background and would know "your habits and routines."

"They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live," the letter said. "You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it."

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