WASHINGTON - A federal judge held a former USA Today reporter in contempt of court and ordered her to pay up to $5,000 a day if she refuses to identify her sources for stories about a former Army scientist under scrutiny in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
US District Judge Reggie B. Walton said Toni Locy must pay fines out of her own pocket as long as she continues to defy his order that she cooperate in scientist Steven J. Hatfill's lawsuit against the government.
Hatfill accuses the Justice Department of violating his privacy by discussing the investigation with reporters.
Locy had asked that a contempt citation be delayed while she appeals to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The judge refused.
Starting at midnight Tuesday, Locy is ordered to pay fines of $500 a day for the first week, $1,000 a day for the second week, and $5,000 thereafter until she appears before the judge on April 3.
"To maximize the potential that Ms. Locy will ultimately comply with the court's order . . . Ms. Locy is required to personally bear the responsibility of paying the fine the court imposed," Walton wrote Friday.
Locy "is precluded from accepting any monetary or other form of reimbursement," the judge added.
Locy, 48, is a former Associated Press reporter who wrote about Hatfill while working at USA Today.
"I'm terribly disappointed in the judge's ruling," said Locy, now a professor at West Virginia University's journalism school. "I had hoped he would reconsider this draconian sanction."
In his decision, the judge said that further delay of a case that is more than four years old "may very likely prejudice Dr. Hatfill, with the potential result being the erosion of his ability to effectively establish" his Privacy Act claims.
Explaining his rationale for making Locy pay the money, the judge pointed to statements Hatfill's lawyers made in court papers. Hatfill's legal team said that while Locy's reporting was conducted "within the scope of her employment for USA Today, her contempt was not. It began long after she left the employment of USA Today."
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, yesterday said Walton appears to be trying to bankrupt Locy.
"What he's doing is essentially saying, 'Toni Locy, I am going to destroy your life' " she said.