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DOJ settles Hatfill suit over anthrax investigation

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Friday that it will pay former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven Hatfill [WP profile] $2.8 million to settle his claim that the DOJ violated the US Privacy Act [text] by providing information about him to journalists during its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder], in which he was at one point named a "person of interest." The DOJ initially agreed to seek a settlement [text, PDF; JURIST report] in late June after Hatfill filed his lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report]. The settlement may moot a contempt case against former USA Today reporter and past JURIST student staff member Toni Locy [JURIST news archive], who is now awaiting a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Locy had refused to disclose her related sources in discovery, arguing that the information Hatfill was seeking was not central to his lawsuit. In a June letter [text, PDF] to the Court of Appeals informing it of the settlement, Hatfill lawyer Christopher Wright said that Locy's evidence was no longer needed by his client. Also Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported [text] that government scientist and biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins apparently committed suicide after learning that the DOJ was going to prosecute him in connection with the anthrax attacks. Reuters has more.

In March, US District Judge Reggie Walton found Locy in contempt of court [order, PDF; JURIST report] for not disclosing her sources and ordered her to pay a fine of $500 a day, increasing to $1,000 a day after one week and then up to $5,000 a day after two weeks, the costs of which could not be covered by her former employer. Locy obtained an emergency stay of that order from the Court of Appeals and oral arguments [JURIST reports] on the merits of the sanctions were heard in May. The appeals court has yet to make a formal ruling on the status of the contempt case in light of the Hatfill settlement, but Locy said that she and her lawyers were hopeful that the deal would end the matter. The US Senate recently considered a proposed federal reporter shield law [S. 2035 text, PDF; bill materials] that news agencies said [JURIST report] would be beneficial in cases such as Locy's, but the Senate tabled the bill [text, PDF] without a vote on Wednesday.

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