Reporter Faces Financial Ruin for Not Naming Sources

Former USA Today reporter appeals contempt order for not revealing her sources.

ByABC News
May 9, 2008, 2:31 PM

May 9, 2008— -- 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.'"