Supreme Court refuses abortion protester Terry's case, clearing path to jail

October 18, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Anti-abortion leader Randall A. Terry appeared headed to jail after the Supreme Court refused yesterday to hear his appeal of a contempt conviction for plotting to have a fetus thrust into the face of Bill Clinton in 1992.

But Mr. Terry's lawyer, Jay Alan Sekulow of Atlanta, plans to ask a federal judge to eliminate the five-month jail sentence, on the ground that the Operation Rescue leader has not been arrested or charged with anything since the 1992 incident.

In addition, Mr. Sekulow indicated through an aide, he will contend that the legal issues surrounding Mr. Terry's contempt case remain unsettled despite the Supreme Court's action yesterday, so he should not have to serve jail time.

Mr. Terry has been jailed before, in 1988 in Atlanta, for his anti-abortion protest activities there, and his organization has been assessed heavy fines in several cities, including New York. He was jailed six years ago in Atlanta for his role in a series of demonstrations outside abortion clinics during the Democratic National Convention in that city.

It was another Democratic convention, the one two years ago that nominated Mr. Clinton for president, that drew Mr. Terry to New York and led to the criminal contempt conviction and jail sentence at issue in yesterday's Supreme Court action.

As then-candidate Clinton was leaving his hotel, a man named Harvey David Belew, allegedly carrying out a plan worked out by Mr. Terry, confronted Mr. Clinton with the body of a 19- to $H 20-week-old fetus, held in a plastic container.

A federal judge asked the Bush administration's federal prosecutor in New York to press the contempt charge, but that official refused to do so.

The contempt charge was based on an alleged violation of a court order that the administration believed it could not support. The order had barred anti-abortion demonstrations under a civil rights law that, the Bush administration argued, did not apply to that kind of activity -- a position later upheld by the Supreme Court in another Operation Rescue case.

When the federal prosecutor balked in the contempt case, the judge asked New York's attorney general at the time, Robert Abrams, to act as the prosecutor. Mr. Abrams and his staff had brought the earlier civil case that led to the order against protests.

Mr. Terry challenged the legality of Mr. Abrams' dual role, and contended that the prosecutor was biased against him. The trial judge rejected those objections, and convicted Mr. Terry. A federal appeals court in New York City upheld the conviction and jail sentence. The Supreme Court gave no reason for refusing yesterday to review the case.

In a separate case, the court agreed to consider a Justice Department appeal seeking to revive an anti-rackets charge against a former Los Angeles federal prosecutor who turned to a life of drug crime.

The ex-prosecutor, Juan Paul Robertson, left his Justice Department post and began representing people accused of drug trafficking. The government charged that he made personal use of a car, a load of cocaine in the car trunk, and money belonging to one of his clients, and engaged in drug deals himself. He also put some of the money into a gold mine in Alaska.

While a lower court upheld most of Robertson's convictions, it threw out an anti-racketeering charge for lack of evidence. The issue is whether a 1970 law against rackets requires proof that a company used in a racket did business beyond one state's borders.

In another order, the justices left intact a federal appeals court ruling that prison inmates in Nevada have the right to collect interest on their personal money accounts deposited at the prison. An appeal by the state of Nevada thus failed.

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