As we reported last week, Jim Stewart, the retired former Washington- based correspondent for CBS News, recently filed a motion in federal court, in which he continued to defy a federal judge’s orders that he name his confidential government sources from a series of stories he produced in 2003 about the FBI’s investigation into the scientist Steven J. Hatfill. At the time, Mr. Hatfill was suspected of being involved in the domestic anthrax attacks of 2001, and he is now suing members of the federal government, alleging that they violated the federal Privacy Act by talking about him to reporters.
On Friday, Mr. Hatfill’s lawyer, Thomas Connolly, officially responded.
In a 19-page document filed in federal court on Friday afternoon, Mr. Connolly characterized Mr. Stewart’s legal arguments for not naming his sources as “improper and baseless,” argued that Mr. Stewart was trying to create a “war of attrition” by seeking “to re-litigate the merits of his reporter’s privilege claim,” and continued to urge Judge Reggie Walton to hold Mr. Stewart in contempt of court.
“The Court ordered Mr. Stewart to name his sources,” wrote Mr. Connolly. “Mr. Stewart knew that; yet Mr. Stewart refused. He is in contempt, and none of the recovered recollections he offers in his latest pleading would change that even if they were entirely credible.”
“Moreover, Mr. Stewart’s claim that he ‘made a good faith effort to secure waivers’ is demonstrably false and his attempt to take credit for the identification of one of his sources is at best misleading,” added Mr. Connolly. “In fact, Mr. Stewart stands out as the most defiant of all the reporters whose privilege assertions the Court overruled.”
That defiance, Mr. Connolly went on to argue, continued to undermine his client’s ability to advance his lawsuit.
“Mr. Stewart also argues that, despite his conceded defiance, the Court should, as a discretionary matter, decline to enforce its order against him on the grounds that his defiance does not harm Dr. Hatfill,” wrote Mr. Connolly. “Mr. Stewart’s refusal to identify three of his four distinct FBI sources plainly harms Dr. Hatfill. As explained in [Lee v. Dept. of Justice], the more agency sources a Privacy Act plaintiff can uncover, the more sure he can be of overcoming the Agency Defendants’ ongoing denial that their personnel made the disclosures at issue.”
It’s now up to Judge Walton to decide whether Mr. Stewart will indeed be held in contempt.