Hatfill lawyers seek dismissal of Locy contempt appeal

[JURIST] Attorneys for former US Army researcher Dr. Steven Hatfill [Washington Post profile] have filed a motion [PDF text] seeking to dismiss an appeal by former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [academic profile; JURIST news archive] challenging her contempt order for refusing to disclose sources for articles about the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. The motion, filed Thursday in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website; JURIST news archive], argues that the appeal is moot because Locy "has not suffered and will not suffer any sanction under the order of contempt." District Court Judge Reggie Walton [official profile] indicated in July that he would vacate the contempt order because Hatfill had settled the lawsuit [JURIST report] in which he sought Locy's testimony.

If Locy's appeal is dismissed, the case would be remanded to the district court, where Hatfill would seek attorneys' fees from Locy. Hatfill's attorneys, from the Washington firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP [firm website], wrote:

In this case, it would be the tail wagging the dog if this Court were to issue a decision addressing whether the district court properly held Locy in contempt to reach an ancillary dispute concerning fees that has not been reduced to an order (and which is therefore not yet appealable).
Locy told the Blog of Legal Times that she expected the attorneys' fees to be "far greater" than the fines she would have faced for contempt, noting that Hatfill is already receiving millions of dollars from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website; JURIST news archive]. A Harris Wiltshire partner told Legal Times that the motion for attorneys' fees was "standard" practice under Rule 37 [text] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Legal Times has more.

Hatfill sued the DOJ [complaint, PDF] in 2003, alleging that officials had violated the federal Privacy Act [text] by providing personal information and information about him to Locy and other journalists during the anthrax investigation, in which he was at one point named a "person of interest." Hatfill received court permission to question the journalists during discovery the following year, and Walton last year ordered the reporters [JURIST reports] to reveal their sources. After Locy refused, Walton held her in contempt [JURIST report] and ordered her to pay a $500-a-day fine, increasing to $5000 a day after two weeks, and prohibited USA Today from reimbursing her. The DC Circuit stayed the contempt order pending Locy's appeal, which it heard [JURIST reports] in May. The DOJ reached a settlement with Hatfield [JURIST report] in June, agreeing to pay him $2.8 million plus a 20-year annuity of $150,000. The US Senate considered a proposed federal reporter shield law that news agencies said would be beneficial [JURIST report] in cases such as Locy's, but the bill was tabled without a vote. In August, a federal district judge ordered the unsealing [JURIST report] of hundreds of documents related to the anthrax investigation, including 14 search warrants issued against biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins [NPR report], who committed suicide before the DOJ could prosecute him in connection with the attacks.

Editor's Note: Toni Locy served as a JURIST student staff member while pursuing her MSL at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006-07.

 

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