A man accused of threatening a
Boulder, Colo., doctor and his family will go to trial after all.
Donald Hertz, of Spokane, Wash., stunned a U.S.
District Court in Denver Tuesday after suddenly rejecting a signed plea
agreement with federal prosecutors. He was expected to plead guilty to two
counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and
making an interstate threat.
The federal indictment accuses Hertz of calling
the Boulder Abortion Clinic and telling a receptionist that a team of former
soldiers was en route from Spanish Fork, Utah, to Colorado to kill a member of
Dr. Warren Hern’s family. The call was placed on June 23, just weeks after the
murder of Wichita physician George Tiller, a colleague of Hern’s.
Russell Van Camp told RH RealityCheck that Hertz allegedly made the call
because he was upset over Hern’s media statements following Tiller’s death.
Hertz was angered that Hern said he would continue to provide third trimester
abortions despite the increased risks of protester violence and terrorism.
The Denver Post reported that
Hertz told District Court Judge Marcia Krieger, "There are a lot of things
in that plea that are not true. My attorney advised me to sign this. There are things
I did say and things I didn’t say, and I don’t think I should plead guilty to
things I didn’t do."
"It was completely out of context for him to
be charged with this kind of problem," said Van Camp who claims he was as
taken by surprise by Hertz’ plea decision as others in the courtroom.
But that doesn’t mean that Hertz is unknown to the
legal system. He has been involved in 21 criminal and civil lawsuits since 1980
mostly stemming from bad business deals, according to Washington State court
records. Hertz’ real estate license was nearly suspended in 1982 for "bad
faith, dishonesty and untrustworthiness," according to state licensing
officials who deferred the action on condition they were no further
Yet, Hertz’ personal conflicts only seemed to
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Hawk noted in an October 26
evidence motion that the government intended to raise at trial a much more
serious issue that launched an FBI investigation. In 1991, Hertz was alleged to
have threatened to assault an attorney unless he lowered his fees.
Van Camp would not speculate on Hertz’ motive for
the 11th-hour change of heart or whether the January 29 conviction of Scott Roeder
for the first degree murder of Tiller and the assault of two other men affected
his decision to reject the plea.
However, the defense lawyer did confirm that Hertz
opposes abortion. But he denied that his client has been involved in
anti-choice protests prior to making the alleged threat against Hern.
He would know — the personal injury lawyer claims
to have represented 100 anti-choice protesters in the Western U.S. over the
last 40 years.
Van Camp met his current wife, Teri Lindley, after
springing her from jail and representing her in court for assaulting a teenage
girl at a medical clinic. Lindley was convicted of grabbing the 17-year-old
around the neck and dragging her out of a doctor’s office where she assumed the
girl was seeking an abortion. Van Camp’s first wife later divorced him after
catching him in bed with Lindley.
"No matter what you think of the pro-life
movement, however, killing babies in the third trimester is just God
awful," said Van Camp.
The father of seven and grandfather of 21, whose
cell phone ring tone is the iconic Mary Poppins’ song "A Spoonful of Sugar,"
belies his colorful reputation in eastern Washington legal circles that
includes a fair number of detractors. The Spokane lawyer was
censured in 1985 by the state bar association for charging excessive
fees to clients. In 2002, his law
license was suspended for six months after admitting to making false
statements on his own bankruptcy application.
News reports over
the past 25 years recounting their various professional spats have not been
complimentary of Hertz nor his legal counsel. But Van Camp promises a vigorous
defense of Hertz, an apparent kindred spirit and lightening rod for local
controversy whom he has known for more than 30 years.
agreement would have spared the 70-year-old from serving prison time, Van
Camp told the Seattle Times. Hertz now faces six years in federal prison and a
$350,000 fine. A jury trial has been set for March 29.
Hertz is not in federal custody and is expected to
return to Denver for the trial despite failed attempts to move
the case to eastern Washington due to medical infirmities dating back to
Hern said he was appalled by the latest turn of
events. "He needs to be brought to justice for the pain and cruelty he
inflicted on my family and staff."
This is the second time Hern has been the subject of a FACE Act
violation. In 1999, he and a dozen physicians were featured on the infamous
Nuremberg Files Web site and "wanted posters" circulated by
anti-abortion militants, including the Army of God which has been linked to
murders, arsons and anthrax attacks. A Portland jury awarded $107 million
dollars to the plaintiffs, including Hern, four colleagues and two local
women’s clinics that had been targeted. A federal appellate court judge later overturned
the landmark FACE and racketeering verdicts.
Few FACE Act prosecutions were pursued during the Bush Administration
despite an increase in violent rhetoric and large spikes in the number of
Which makes the government’s legal strategy on the
Hertz case all the more interesting. The Washington, D.C.-based Civil Rights
division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice is prosecuting the case after recusing
the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s office from the case. A DOJ spokesman declined to
comment on the pending trial