A judge is trying to bankrupt an ex-reporter with daily fines of as much as $5,000 for refusing to disclose her sources for stories about the 2001 anthrax attacks, press advocates say.
They also say the case involving journalist Toni Locy shows why Congress should pass a federal shield law for reporters.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton denied a request Friday from Miss Locy to stay payment of fines for a contempt citation pending an appeal and ruled she must “personally bear the responsibility of paying the fine the court imposed.”
While at USA Today, Miss Locy wrote about former Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill, whom the Justice Department identified in 2002 as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks. The attacks killed five and sickened 17 others in 2001, weeks after the September 11 terrorist strikes.
Mr. Hatfill has denied involvement in the anthrax attacks and sued the government for violating his privacy by discussing the investigation with reporters. Nobody has been charged in the attacks.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said Judge Walton appears to be trying to bankrupt Miss Locy, a former Associated Press reporter who now is a professor at West Virginia University’s journalism school.
“What he’s doing is essentially saying, ‘Toni Locy, I am going to destroy your life,’ ” she said. “This is just plain crazy. I know you’re not supposed to call a federal judge arrogant, but this is arrogant.”