Local authorities consider settlement with plaintiffs in reproductive rights lawsuit | TheUnion.com

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Local authorities consider settlement with plaintiffs in reproductive rights lawsuit

Local officials have decided to take matters into their own hands to end a civil rights lawsuit filed by three faith-based pregnancy care centers. The clinics are trying to block a new state law that compels them to notify clients of available state contraception options and abortion services.

"The six local governments are considering whether to agree not to enforce the statute while the lawsuit is pending, in exchange for the plaintiffs' agreement to dismiss them from the case," wrote Grass Valley City Attorney Michael Colantuono in an email to The Union.

Colantuono is among a group of local and state officials being sued in a case initiated by the Grass Valley-based LivingWell Medical Clinic — in conjunction with Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast Inc. of Humboldt County, and Confidence Pregnancy Center Inc. of Monterey County — in an attempt to challenge the Reproductive FACT Act.

The plaintiffs argued that the Act, signed into law by Gov. Brown in October, violates their religious and speech rights.

In addition to Colantuono, other defendants in the case are: Alison Barratt-Green, county counsel of Nevada County, Kamala Harris, California attorney general, Karen Smith, director of public health for the state of California, as well as city and county officials in Humboldt and Monterey counties.

While the state legislation became effective on Jan. 1, officials said no enforcement action has been taken yet at the local level.

During a hearing on Dec. 17, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District Court of California turned down the plaintiffs' request for an injunction, stating the new law does not impede their First Amendment rights.

In the meantime, officials in Grass Valley, Nevada County, Humboldt County and Monterey County collectively filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit at the Northern District Court of California.

But on Jan. 6, the court delayed a hearing originally set for Jan. 8 to discuss this motion. The case will now be heard on June 10. Colantuono said the court didn't give any reasons for putting off the hearing for six months. He discussed the settlement idea with the Grass Valley City Council during a closed session on Tuesday, but they have yet to reach a decision.

Robert Tyler, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he hasn't heard about the settlement, but he is not surprised that the idea has been brought up by the officials.

"I have no doubt that they are considering that," Tyler said. "But I can't say on a first-hand knowledge whether or not we are having that conversation. My co-counsels are taking the lead for the parties in Northern California."

Tyler said the most important thing for his clients now is asking the Ninth Circuit Court to review the case. But he doesn't expect the court to hold that hearing until after three to six months.

"We will be writing the briefs over the next months," he added.

Colantuono said he anticipates additional meetings in the near future with the city and county officials, as well as the plaintiffs, to further explore options.

To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please call 530-477-4236, or email tliu@theunion.com.