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Five reporters ordered to reveal sources in anthrax case

[JURIST] US District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Monday ordered five reporters to testify [memorandum opinion, PDF] about government sources who provided them information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Seteven J. Hatfill [WashPost profile], who was identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. Walton rejected arguments from the reporters that the information Hatfill is seeking has not been demonstrated to be central to Hatfill's civil lawsuit. Hatfill is suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text]. Hatfill contends that FBI and DOJ officials violated federal privacy laws [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by providing personal information and information about the investigation to journalists. Walton also agreed Monday with a motion by several media companies to quash Hatfill's efforts to compel the companies to provide information, ruling that Hatfill had not exhausted "every reasonable alternative source of information."

In January, US District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia granted a motion for dismissal [JURIST report] made by the New York Times in a defamation suit filed by Hatfill against the paper. A prior suit against the Times and columnist Nicholas Kristof [NYT profile] was dismissed in the trial court, which ruled that the columns dealing with Hatfill were an ongoing report about a government investigation and did not constitute libel. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] the ruling, holding that a jury should decide that issue. Last year, the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari [JURIST report] in the case. The New York Times has more.

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