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Reporters Committee welcomes settlement in Hatfill suit

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  1. Libel and Privacy
RCFP Press Release PRESS RELEASE: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- Contact: Lucy Dalglish,…

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Contact: Lucy Dalglish, (703) 807-2100


Reporters Committee welcomes settlement in Hatfill suit

June 27, 2008


The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today expressed relief over the news that the U.S. Department of Justice has settled the Privacy Act suit brought by Dr. Steven Hatfill, the one-time “person of interest” in the anthrax attack investigation.

Although it has not been confirmed by the appellate court, the settlement should mean that the appeal of the contempt order against former USA Today reporter Toni Locy is now moot. Attorneys for Hatfill have notified the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the appeal was pending, that they no longer need the testimony.

The Justice Department has agreed to pay Hatfill $2.8 million in cash immediately, and another $3 million in annuity payments of $150,000 a year over the next 20 years.

“From the media’s perspective, it is particularly important to note that, unlike the similar settlement in the Wen Ho Lee Privacy Act case three years ago, Toni Locy’s former employer was not cornered into participating in the financial settlement. The government is paying the entire amount,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “Toni Locy can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief that she will not have to identify more than a dozen former sources in the Justice Department.”

Hatfill, a former Army scientist, sued the government and officials under the Privacy Act after then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and other anonymous sources identified him to the media as a “person of interest” in the investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people and sickened 17 others. After the Department of Justice claimed that submitting to Hatfill’s discovery requests seeking to identify those sources would compromise the ongoing anthrax investigation, Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered as many as 100 federal agents to provide blanket waivers to release any media organizations from promises of confidentiality. In December 2004, Hatfill subpoenaed a number of news organizations to provide documents and testimony in his case.

In Aug. 2007, Walton granted a motion to compel the testimony of six journalists from Newsweek, ABC News, The Washington Post, CBS, and USA Today. Some of those journalists’ sources came forward, and subsequently, Hatfill sought contempt sanctions for CBS’ James Stewart, who refused to identify any additional sources, and Locy, who does not remember which of her sources provided specific information related to Hatfill.

Walton found Locy in contempt in late February 2008, and formalized the order in writing on March 7. He ordered that until she identified all sources she used over a period of five years for stories about the anthrax poisonings, Locy would face fines starting at $500 per day for the first seven days, $1,000 per day for the next seven days, and $5,000 a day for the next seven. If she still had not disclosed her sources at that time, she would have to appear before him again so he could consider additional measures.

For more information on the case, see the Reporters Committee’s page on federal subpoena controversies at www.rcfp.org/shields_and_subpoenas.html.


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