Federal judge threatens anthrax reporter with contempt for not revealing sources

[JURIST] US District Judge Reggie B. Walton Tuesday threatened to hold a reporter in contempt of court if she continues to violate an August 2007 order to testify [memorandum opinion, PDF; JURIST report] about government sources who provided five reporters with information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill [Washington Post profile]. Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [profile], who now holds the Shott Chair of Journalism at West Virginia University, has refused to cooperate in Hatfill's suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text], arguing that the information Hatfill is seeking has not been demonstrated to be central to the lawsuit. Walton will decide in the next few weeks whether former CBS reporter James Stewart will also face contempt charges for refusing to divulge his sources.

Hatfill was identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. He contends that FBI and DOJ officials violated federal privacy laws [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by providing personal information and information about the investigation to journalists. Locy and Stewart refused to comply with orders to reveal their sources, saying that Hatfill's own lawyer revealed his identity in connection with the investigation. AP has more.

2/20/08 - In a statement to JURIST, Locy said:

I am disappointed in the judge's decision to hold me in contempt. I am concerned about the chilling effect it could have on reporters across the nation who write about on-going law enforcement investigations. In this country, we don't wait until someone is charged, tried and convicted before we examine the quality of FBI investigations. We hold the FBI accountable now. It's one of the critical ways the press acts as a check against the abuse of power, particularly by police.
Editor's Note: Toni Locy served as a JURIST student staff member while pursuing her MSL at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006-07.

 

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