Former USA Today reporter (and now West Virginia journalism professor) Toni Locy faces financial ruin after an extraordinary order from U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton. The court imposed $5000 a day on her personally for refusing to disclose her sources in the case filed by former Army scientist, Steven J. Hatfill related to the 2001 anthrax attacks. The question is whether this order will finally prompt Congress to pass a need federal shield law.
While reporters will sometimes go to jail to protect sources, it is rare to see a daily running fine — at alone a fine imposed on her personally. Locy, however, is no longer employed by USA Today and the judge agreed with Hatfill that her contempt occurred after such employment. The judge further refused to stay the fine pending appeal.
Hatfill, whom the Justice Department identified in 2002 as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks. They killed five and sickened 17 others weeks after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001.
Hatfill wants to know who told her that he was a “person of interest” in the anthrax investigation. It was clearly an effort by government officials to use the media to coerce and harass Hatfill, who life was ruined by the leaks.
The fines quickly rise, beginning with $500 a day for the first week, $1,000 a day for the second week and $5,000 thereafter until she appears before the judge April 3.
Hatfill has a very compelling complaint against the Justice Department and the FBI. However, the Locy case shows how exposes journalists remain in the federal system without a shield law. For a prior column, click here and for former testimony, here.
For the latest story on Hatfill, click .