by Diane Minor
In a move a NOW attorney calls "unexpected" and "wonderful," the trial judge in the NOW v. Scheidler clinic violence case set a trial date for March 3, 1997. NOW will prove what federal investigators say they can't -- that there is a nationwide conspiracy among anti-abortion terrorists.
"It's finally, finally going to happen," said Fay Clayton of Chicago, who argued the case on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. "The judge said the date is very firm, that he would guard it against all intrusions."
Ironically, this surprising development came during a routine court appearance, when Scheidler's attorney asked the judge to hold an evidentiary hearing and issue a summary judgment, a way to avoid a trial. According to Clayton, Federal District Judge David Coar told Scheidler attorney Thomas Brejcha he didn't need a hearing, he needed a trial date.
"Brejcha appeared stunned," Clayton said. NOW had been seeking a trial date for about 10 years, but the case had been subject to appeal after appeal and other delaying tactics.
In January 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld NOW's right to use federal anti-racketeering laws to sue anti-abortion ringleaders who terrorize clinics, their staff and patients.
Another issue Clayton hopes will be resolved soon is whether or not the judge will grant NOW class certification. If granted, it would mean that any ruling in NOW's favor would also apply to all women who seek services from clinics.
"If we don't get a class certification but do win the case, women won't be protected from the defendants' harassment unless they're NOW members," Clayton said.
"I told the judge that would be the best fundraiser for NOW ever."
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