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Appeals Court Blocks Fines For Reporter

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower court's order requiring a former USA TODAY reporter to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Toni Locy would not identify sources who named former Army scientist Steven Hatfill as a possible suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Lawyers for Locy, now a West Virginia University journalism professor, had requested that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit block the fines while they appealed a contempt order by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

The fines of up to $5,000 a day were set to begin at midnight Tuesday. Walton had ordered that Locy — not her former employer or others — pay the fines as long as she refused to identify her sources who linked Hatfill to the attacks that killed five people.

In the brief court ruling Tuesday afternoon, a three-judge panel said Locy had "satisfied the stringent standards required" for the stay. No date was set for a hearing by the court on the contempt appeal.

"I'm relieved and thankful that the Court of Appeals has found that my legal arguments are worthy of its consideration," Locy said Tuesday.

 Her attorneys argued the sanctions amounted to "destructive financial penalties" for a reporter who acted in "good faith."

Twenty-nine other media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, had joined in the appeal and described the fines as potentially "ruinous."

Hatfill, who was publicly identified in 2002 by John Ashcroft, then attorney general, as a "person of interest" in the attacks, has never been charged.

Hatfill's lawyers say the source information is needed to pursue a civil lawsuit in which they contend the Justice Department violated his privacy.

Hatfill attorney Patrick O'Donnell could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Locy was one of six reporters Hatfill subpoenaed to disclose government sources who named him as a possible suspect in the anthrax attacks. Four of the reporters obtained waivers from their sources, allowing them to identify the officials.

Walton is considering a contempt order against a fifth reporter.

Locy has obtained waivers from three of about a dozen sources. But she says she does not remember which sources linked Hatfill to the government's inquiry.


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