WASHINGTON — A former USA Today reporter sought to block fines of up to $5,000 a day imposed by a judge who wants her to disclose confidential sources for stories on a scientist under scrutiny in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Lawyers for Toni Locy told the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the judge is making demands that are "vastly overbroad."
Locy must pay fines out of her own pocket as long as she refuses to identify her sources. In addition, she could be ordered to prison after an April 3 hearing if she continues to defy the judge in a lawsuit against the government filed by Steven J. Hatfill.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton wants Locy to reveal her sources so Hatfill's lawyers can question them "in the vague and unlikely hope that some of them might recall and admit that, years ago, they disclosed information" about the investigation of Hatfill, her lawyers wrote.
Delaying penalties for contempt of court "are the norm" when reporters challenge orders to reveal their sources, Locy's lawyers argued in the emergency motion to appeal.
The brief says Walton is imposing "destructive financial penalties upon a reporter who has — in complete good faith — invoked a constitutional privilege not to testify so that she can secure appellate review of her unique situation."
Locy, a former Associated Press reporter who now is a professor at West Virginia University's journalism school, says she cannot remember the names of her sources for two stories about the probe of Hatfill. She says she does remember the names of a dozen or so confidential FBI and Justice Department sources whom she regularly consulted about terrorism issues. Walton granted a request from Hatfill's lawyers to compel Locy to provide the names of all the sources.
Twenty-nine news organizations, including the Associated Press, supported Locy, calling her circumstances a "legal vise" and a "nightmare scenario that every reporter at every news organization dreads."
"Ms. Locy has been ordered to name each of her confidential news sources for bioterrorism matters, whether or not they may have been her sources for the articles in question, and despite the fact that many of her terrorism sources necessarily were not her sources for the articles," the news organizations said.