The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocked the $5000 a day fines imposed on former USA Today reporter Toni Locy by Judge Reggie Walton for refusing to reveal her sources in stories about the criminal investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. The lawsuit was brought by Steven Hatfill, a scientist ruined by intentional leaks by government officials.
Walton had imposed the fines personally on Locy and refused to stay the decision pending appeal.
Locy insists that she cannot recall which of her sources gave her the name of scientist Steven Hatfill. The appellate panel was composed of judges Douglas Ginsburg, Judith Rogers and Brett Kavanaugh.
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 full story, click here