WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit has granted a stay to former USA Today reporter Toni Locy who was ordered to pay $500 for each day she refused to name confidential sources for an article on the 2001 anthrax attacks. more
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton held Locy in contempt of court for refusing to disclose her sources for a series of articles on why no charges had been filed against Steven Hatfill, a former Army bioweapons scientist named as a “person of interest” in the case.
One week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, letters tainted with anthrax were mailed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, the New York Post, and Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Five people died from anthrax exposure, including a photo editor at American Media.
The government was under pressure to find the mailer, and on Aug. 6, 2002, former Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft publicly called Hatfill a “person of interest” in the case.
The Justice Department and the FBI launched an investigation that resulted in no arrests. Hatfill sued the government for allegedly violating the Privacy Act by disclosing confidential information. His lawyers, in their effort to win damages, are trying to force Locy to reveal who told her about Hatfill and the investigation.
Her articles tried to explain why Hatfill wasn’t arrested and suggested that the evidence against him was weak. She wrote that “one of the law enforcement sources says investigators sometimes wonder whether they focused on Hatfill too soon and ignored someone who deserved more attention.”
Ken Paulson, an editor at USA Today, wrote in an editorial that Hatfill’s lawyers don’t need Locy to make their case. “This is just about improving Hatfill’s chances of a big payday from the government,” he wrote.
The emergency stay stops Locy from having to pay a $500 daily fine that would rise incrementally to $5,000 a day.