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Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015

Judge worries over records decision

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

A district judge is worried that lifting a court order to obtain pregnancy tests at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake would give the public the idea that his orders "were grossly wrong" in the first place.

"Planned Parenthood will immediately claim that they have a total victory here... that I don't know what I'm doing," Judge Frank Nelson said.

Buena Vista County Attorney Phil Havens asked Nelson to lift court orders for pregnancy tests because he feared an endless and expensive court battle.

"I decided in my own mind it was not productive to continue," Havens said.

Investigators wanted the records to help solve the case of a newborn boy whose body was found at the county recycling center in May. The orders launched an unprecedented court battle pitting government against privacy rights, and a controversy that drew headlines all over the country.

The Supreme Court was set to hear the case but sent it back to the lower court after the county attorney asked that the orders be lifted last week.

Mark McCormick, Planned Parenthood's attorney, said the court orders could be destroyed "without any implication about whether they were right or wrong in their merits."

The judge disagrees.

"Rulings mean nothing to the newspaper," Nelson said at a hearing. "They'll publish what they get from Planned Parenthood, and that's going to be that I made a grave mistake and I'm now backing away from my decisions."

McCormick suggests that publicity is not the issue.

"I don't think courts make rulings out of concern for what newspapers will say," he said at the hearing. "All I can suggest, Judge, is that we're making strictly a legal argument."

McCormick also asked the judge to dissolve the court orders to prevent prosecutors from using them in the future. Havens said his request assures Planned Parenthood officials that he won't pursue the test results again.

Nelson is expected to rule as soon as this week.

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