Showdown for Reporters in Wen Ho Lee Case

May 29, 2006 1:14pm

Unless there is a last minute settlement, the Supreme Court is expected to decide today whether contempt orders against four prominent reporters, including Pierre Thomas of ABC News, should stay in place if they continue to refuse to name their confidential sources in a civil lawsuit brought against the government by nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. Legal experts say if the Supreme Court rules against the reporters, they may be forced to consider a cash payout to Lee as the only way to protect their confidential sources and avoid penalties which could include jail. Efforts by the government and the media companies to settle the case out of court were reported to be continuing over the Memorial Day weekend. The Supreme Court delayed a decision last week when Lee’s lawyers, in a letter to the court, said a settlement “may be imminent.” Lawyers said the settlement talks are bogged down and complicated by the reluctance of some parties to settle. If the court rules against the reporters by refusing to hear the appeal of a lower court decision, Lee’s lawyers may demand a larger settlement from the media companies. The reporters includes James Risen of the New York Times, H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press, Bob Drogin of the Los Angles Times and ABC News’ Thomas, who worked for CNN at the time he filed his Lee stories. Lee alleges the government violated his privacy rights by giving reporters information about an espionage investigation of him. Lee was never charged with espionage and later pleaded guilty to one count of improperly downloading classified information.   

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