WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday delayed a decision on whether to take up a fight over reporters' confidential sources, apparently because a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist's lawsuit that prompted journalist subpoenas may be settled.
A lawyer for former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee told the Court in a letter last week "there have been recent settlement discussions with the government in the underlying case," in which Lee accused the government of violating his rights under the Privacy Act.
Appeals arising from that case are pending at the Supreme Court, brought by journalists who were found in civil contempt of court. The reporters have refused to disclose who leaked them information about an investigation of Lee.
Lee was never charged with espionage. He was arrested in December 1999 and charged with unlawfully copying material.
He spent 279 days in solitary confinement before pleading guilty in September 2000 to a single count of downloading data to computer tape. The government dropped 58 other counts and U.S. District Judge James Parker apologized to Lee, saying the government's handling of the case "embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it."
Lee, who was fired from the northern New Mexico lab, has a filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages.
Brian A. Sun, one of Lee's attorneys, said "resolution of the entire case may be imminent." The letter was addressed to the Supreme Court's clerk.
Justices could have announced yesterday whether they would hear appeals from the reporters: H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press, James Risen of The New York Times, Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times and Pierre Thomas, formerly of CNN and now working for ABC News.
The cases are Drogin v. Lee, 05-969, and Thomas v. Lee, 05-1114.