Lawsuit Against Project Veritas May Shed New Light on Right-Wing Group's Internal Operations - 2018-07-23
A Michigan judge issued a ruling late last week granting the American Federation of Teachers the right to discovery in an ongoing legal battle with Project Veritas, the sting group launched by conservative provocateur James O'Keefe. The escalating fight, which is being played out in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, began last September, when the teachers union filed a lawsuit accusing Project Veritas of infiltrating and illegally gathering proprietary information from its Michigan affiliate. Project Veritas, a right-wing activist group known for releasing undercover video exposés of liberal organizations like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, has taken a special interest in targeting teacher unions over the last eight years. The group has been accused of routinely doctoring its videos, and last year it was caught trying to feed a false story about Roy Moore, then a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, to the Washington Post. The discovery in the Michigan case may shed new light on its internal operations.
According to the September complaint, which was filed in state court, Marisa Jorge, a political operative for Project Veritas, presented herself as a University of Michigan student named Marissa Perez who was interested in becoming a teacher. She applied for a summer internship with AFT Michigan and was hired in May 2017. For the next three months, she allegedly gathered a wide range of confidential information on the teachers union. The lawsuit claims that on multiple occasions Jorge was found alone in other employees' offices, accessing information she, as an intern, had no right to see. In other cases, she requested to attend bargaining sessions, was given access to internal databases, and secretly recorded conversations, according to the complaint. A Michigan judge responded to the lawsuit by issuing a restraining order against Project Veritas in September, barring the group from publishing or disclosing any materials it may have collected from the union. The next month, following a motion by Project Veritas, the case was moved from state to federal court. In December, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker lifted the restraining order. Parker said the AFT had not sufficiently demonstrated it would be harmed by what Project Veritas had collected. In her decision she wrote that "a preliminary injunction most certainly will infringe upon Defendants' First Amendment right." The union went back to court in early May to try once more to prevent Project Veritas from releasing any documents or videos it had obtained from its Michigan affiliate. Parker denied the AFT's second request, again citing First Amendment concerns.
Project Veritas began releasing information from AFT Michigan immediately thereafter. In its first post, headlined "BREAKING: Alleged Child Molester Paid Off in Union Negotiation by Michigan American Federation of Teachers," Project Veritas boasted of releasing documents and undercover footage "which reveals that the union protected a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct with a seven- or eight-year-old girl arose." AFT president Randi Weingarten and AFT Michigan President David Hecker released a joint statement following the video's release, calling it a "heavily spliced" smear tactic intended to undermine educators and their unions. "In this particular case, following accusations of a teacher's misconduct with a child of a woman he was dating years before, the union and district officials worked together to separate a teacher from service and make sure students were protected," Weingarten and Hecker stated. "To this day, the teacher denies the accusations, and no charges have been filed. AFT Michigan continues to prioritize the well-being of students and the promise of high-quality public education in Michigan."