(AFP) – Mar 11, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — A former reporter for USAToday newspaper who was ordered to pay hefty fines starting at midnight Tuesday for refusing to name confidential sources for a story, has been granted a stay, court sources said.
"It is ordered that the motion for a stay pending appeal be granted," a clerk at the US court of appeals in Washington told AFP, reading from the order.
"Appellant has satisfied the stringent standards required for a stay pending appeal," the clerk read, hours before the first payment of 500 dollars (325 euros) was due.
Reporter Toni Locy was last week ordered by US District Court Judge Reggie Walton to pay a daily fine of 500 dollars, rising in steps to 5,000 dollars, for refusing to name the sources for a story she wrote about Steven Hatfill, the former army bioweapons scientist named a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
The judge also ordered that Locy pay the fines with no help from her employer, friends, family or even anonymous supporters.
Gannett, the parent company of USAToday, on Monday filed a motion with the court of appeals for an emergency stay of the contempt citation, and a coalition of about two dozen media companies and non-profit journalism organizations also filed an 'amicus brief' in support of Locy the same day.
Hatfill, meanwhile, filed a response on Tuesday, seeking to bar the stay.
The former army scientist was named a "person of interest" by investigating authorities in the United States after anthrax-laced letters were sent to several lawmakers and television offices in October 2001.
Five people, including two post office workers in Washington, died of anthrax inhalation.
In the original complaint Hatfill filed against Locy in August 2003, he alleged that "the Justice Department had violated the Privacy Act by making unauthorized disclosures about him to the news media -- that is, by intentionally 'leaking' investigative information," his response to the motion for a stay said.
Locy has said in court that she could not remember all her sources, and was ordered to pay the rising fines, on her own, until such time as she did name them.
She also faced prison if she failed to name the confidential sources by early April.
"We've never seen anything like this," Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said of the rising fines imposed on Locy, and the judge's order that she pay them on her own.
"The only authority the judge tried to base it on were cases that had to do with whether a lawyer who was found in contempt of court could have a client reimburse him. So we think he based it on a pretty poor precedent and, yes, there isn't anything like it in any other contempt case," Leslie told AFP.
"It is troubling that courts are going to allow this kind of examination of a reporter's work product," he added.
Locy, who is currently a professor of journalism at West Virginia University, said she was delighted to be given a stay and would now "let the appellate process play out."
No date has been set for the appeal hearing.
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