Federal appeals court vacates Locy contempt order in anthrax reporting case

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] has vacated [order, PDF] a district court judge's contempt order [text, PDF; JURIST report] against former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [faculty profile] in connection with her refusal to disclose sources for articles she wrote about the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. The citation, issued by US District Judge Reggie Walton [official profile], required Locy personally to pay a fine of up to $5,000 a day for not yielding information sought by former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven Hatfill [Washington Post profile] in support of his privacy lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] against the US Department of Justice (DOJ). In a ruling handed down Monday, the three-judge appeals panel nonetheless dismissed Locy's actual appeal against the order:

This appeal raised close questions under Fed. R. Evid. 501 and the First Amendment, including whether the appellant had a defense, which required analysis of the appellee’s efforts to obtain the information from alternate sources and need for disclosure of the appellant’s sources, as compared to the appellant’s interest in concealing her sources in order to protect the workings of the press. Because the underlying case has been settled, however, there is no longer a “pending trial in which” the appellee’s request for
disclosure “can be used.”
They also held that because the contempt order was stayed [text, PDF; JURIST report] pending appeal, Locy suffered no injury from the order which would preserve her appeal on the merits. Locy, along with the Reporters Committed for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) [advocacy website] expressed relief that the contempt order had been vacated, but also called it "unfortunate" [Washington & Lee News report] that the court did not decide the underlying appeal. AP has more.

Locy, now a journalism professor at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA, refused to cooperate in Hatfill's suit against the DOJ for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text]. Hatfill, who was publicly identified as a "person of interest" in the government's investigation of the anthrax attacks, contended that FBI and DOJ officials provided his personal information and information about the investigation targeting him to journalists. The parties settled the suit [JURIST report] in June.

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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