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Source releases reporter from confidentiality promise

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Aug 8, 2002    

Source releases reporter from confidentiality promise

  • A judge held Bristol Herald Courier reporter Chris Dumond in contempt and threatened him with jail and a fine for refusing to say who showed him a sealed arrest warrant, but the punishment was avoided when the source came forward.

A reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia avoided paying a fine or going to jail for refusing to name a confidential source in court when the source released the reporter from a promise of confidentiality on Aug. 6.

Federal Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargent in Abingdon, Va., found reporter Chris Dumond in contempt on July 22 when he refused to tell her who showed him a sealed arrest warrant in a terrorism investigation. Dumond wrote several stories in June based on the sealed warrant.

Sargent threatened Dumond with a $5,000 fine and 30 days in jail. She gave Dumond until Aug. 6 to change his mind.

Less than an hour before the Aug. 6 hearing, the woman who showed the warrant to Dumond released Dumond from his promise of confidentiality, said David Harless, one of the attorneys for Dumond and the Herald Courier.

The morning of the hearing, Sargent indicated to attorneys that she would not punish the source if that person was a private individual who obtained the warrant without knowing it was sealed, Harless said.

That encouraged Nancy McNey to step forward. McNey is a friend of Dr. Tajammul Bhatti, who was staying with McNey when he was arrested as a material witness in a terrorism investigation.

After McNey released Dumond from his promise, the reporter took the stand and told the judge that McNey showed him the warrant, Harless said.

Bhatti, an American citizen and native of Pakistan, was jailed for a week in June. The warrant did not charge Bhatti with a crime but indicated that the retired psychiatrist was a witness to events involving terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction, Dumond reported.

Sargent sealed all records in the case and issued a gag order preventing everyone involved in the case from talking about it. Also on May 6, Sargent decided not to hold Bhatti and his attorney, Dennis Jones, in contempt of court, even though she said they technically violated the gag order by talking to others about the case, the Herald Courier reported.

(United States v. Bhatti; Media counsel: Craig Merritt and David Harless, Christian & Barton LLP, Richmond, Va.) MD

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