Steven Hatfill, the former Army scientist investigated in the 2001 anthrax attacks, is still battling with former USA Today reporter Toni Locy — even after his name has been cleared and he’s been awarded a multimillion dollar settlement.
Hatfill filed a motion Thursday to dismiss Locy’s appeal of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s February order, which found her in contempt of court for refusing to reveal sources she used in reporting on the anthrax investigation. In the court papers, Hatfill’s attorneys argued that because the case is settled and Locy’s sources are no longer needed, the court should dismiss it. That could have the effect of both forcing the court to decide whether Locy will have to pay Hatfill’s legal fees, and establishing the court’s opinion finding her in contempt as precedent.
Locy was one of several reporters subpoenaed after Hatfill sued the federal government under the Privacy Act contending that the government violated the Act by identifying him in the press as a “person of interest” in the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and injured 17 others.
When Locy was held in contempt in February, she immediately appealed the order in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which heard oral arguments in the case in May. An opinion was never issued. While she waited for the court, Hatfill and the government settled the case for $5.8 million.
Since the June settlement, all had been relatively quiet.
“I was hoping I was done,” Locy said. “I don’t know what they want. It’s a threat. It’s a threat to other reporters. It’s a threat to the First Amendment and to newsgathering. It seems like now more than ever the Court of Appeals needs to address the use and abuse of these lawsuits against reporters.”
Hatfill’s attorney, Christopher Wright, declined to comment on the case. But in the papers filed yesterday, he wrote: “Because Locy has not suffered and will not suffer any sanction under the order of contempt, there is no need for this Court to rule on the merits of her appeal.”
If the Court of Appeals throws out the case, then the issue comes down to who pays the attorney fees. Hatfill’s motion also said he would ask the district court to force Locy to pay those fees if her appeal is tossed out. Locy said the attorney fees are much more damaging than any sanctions she may have faced with the contempt order.
When Walton found her in contempt, he said Locy would face fines starting at $500 each day for the first seven days, $1,000 each of the next seven days, and $5,000 a day for the next seven. Because Locy’s appeal was pending, she hasn’t had to pay any of the contempt sanctions yet. But if a court now finds that Locy must foot the legal bill for the case, the amount she would have to pay would skyrocket.
“Judge Walton’s contempt order would’ve wrecked my retirement.” Locy said. “But Hatfill’s legal bills would destroy me.”
In Walton’s contempt order, he stipulated that Locy’s sanctions be paid by her and her alone, without the help of her employer USA Today or Gannett. Locy fears that the court may put the same parameters on legal fees. But she said she will continue to fight Hatfill at all costs.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she said. “I won’t quit.”