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Lawsuit over marshal's seizure of tapes settled

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         MISSISSIPPI         Confidentiality/Privilege    

Lawsuit over marshall’s seizure of tapes settled

  • Two Mississippi journalists and their employers have settled a lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service over seized tapes of a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Sep. 29, 2004 — The Hattiesburg (Miss.) American , the Associated Press and reporters Antionette Konz and Denise Grones agreed yesterday to end their lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service for the seizure and destruction of tapes of a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The settlement came after the Department of Justice conceded in court documents Sept. 10 that the seizure violated the federal Privacy Protection Act and that the Marshals Service had amended its policy regarding security of federal judicial officers.

Under the settlement, the reporters, the newspaper and the AP will be paid $1000 each in damages as called for under the Privacy Protection Act, and reasonable attorney’s fees.

On April 7, Konz, of the Hattiesburg American, and Grones, of AP, were ordered by Deputy U.S. Marshal Melanie Rube to erase audio recordings of a speech on the virtues of the Constitution Scalia gave at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. Scalia had a policy of not allowing his speeches to be recorded, but no announcement had been made at the event.

Scalia later apologized in letters to the reporters, writing that the action was not taken at his direction and that marshals mistakenly believed they were enforcing his policy. He also agreed to revise the policy, allowing recording for print but not electronic media.

On May 9, the Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Marshals Service in federal court in Jackson, Miss. The suit alleged that the seizure and destruction of the tapes violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of the press, Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, Fifth Amendment due process requirements and the Privacy Protection Act.

The Marshals Service has revised its policy as a result of the litigation so that marshals will not interfere with taping except when the safety of a judicial officer is believed to be in jeopardy, according to a statement Marshals Service Attorney Gerald Auerbach filed with the court.

The Marshals Service press office confirmed that the policy had been changed, but would only provide a copy of the policy through a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

(The Hattiesburg American v. U.S. Marshals Service; Media Counsel: Luther Munford, Phelps Dunbar, Jackson, Miss.) GP

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