A former USA Today reporter who now works as a university professor has one last chance at avoiding financial ruin unless she discloses the names of her confidential sources, which would be used in a lawsuit against the government.
Toni Locy has been charged with contempt and faces fines of up to $5,000 a day for refusing to release the names of anonymous sources she quoted in a 2003 article detailing the government's investigation into scientist Steven Hatfill, who then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had named as a person of interest in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Hatfill, who has never been charged in the case, is suing the Department of Justice for leaking his name and information to the press, and his attorneys want Locy to testify in the case and reveal the names of her anonymous sources. Locy has refused to do so. A court declared her in contempt, and she is appealing that ruling.
When Locy wrote her article in May 2003, Hatfill had already been named by the government the year before as a person of interest in the case. In fact, she also interviewed Hatfill and his attorney for the article, which focused on how government investigators had been tailing the scientist for 10 months, one time so closely that they ran over his foot with their car.
Also in the article, however, Locy referred to confidential government sources who said the investigators did believe that Hatfill was behind the attacks even though the evidence gathered against him thus far was "largely circumstantial."
Locy's attorney, Robert Bernius, said at a hearing this morning at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. that if Locy is forced to reveal those names, it will create a chilling effect on all government sources who talk to reporters and that reporters would no longer be able to function as the watchdogs of the government.
"These [sources] are vital sources of public information," Bernius told the three-judge panel. "With this order, a source will think, 'If I talk to any reporter about anything, I may have to go to court to testify on whether I did or not.'"
Hatfill's attorney, Christopher Wright, countered that those government sources broke the law when they leaked information about his client and that they only did so to give the impression that they were on top of the case, "that they had their guy." "This is not a case of a reporter shining a light on the government," said Wright.
Locy's attorney told the court she didn't even remember which of her confidential sources leaked the information about Hatfill and that if she were forced to name all of her sources, it would ruin the lives of anonymous sources that weren't even the ones who had leaked information about Hatfill.
The three-judge panel seemed skeptical of Locy's attorney's claims that she couldn't remember which of her sources had provided information on Hatfill. The judges said that it was clear from previous hearings that she knew of about four or five people who were the sources.
Hatfill's attorney said that he believed there were four FBI sources and three DOJ sources that spoke with Locy about his client.
Locy, who didn't attend today's hearing, is now a journalism professor at West Virginia University. The judges are now considering her appeal.