TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Wen Ho Lee Settles Privacy Lawsuit

Wen Ho Lee Settles Privacy Lawsuit

Mark Sherman (
Fri, 2 Jun 2006 19:40:00 -0500

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

Wen Ho Lee, the former nuclear weapons scientist once suspected of
being a spy, settled his privacy lawsuit Friday and will receive $1.6
million from the government and five news organizations in a case that
turned into a fight over reporters' confidential sources.

Lee will receive $895,000 from the government for legal fees and
associated taxes in the 6 1/2-year-old lawsuit in which he accused the
Energy and Justice departments of violating his privacy rights by
leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for

The Associated Press and four other news organizations have agreed to
pay Lee $750,000 as part of the settlement, which ends contempt of
court proceedings against five reporters who refused to disclose the
sources of their stories about the espionage investigation.

Lee said of the settlement: "We are hopeful that the agreements
reached today will send the strong message that government officials
and journalists must and should act responsibly in discharging their
duties and be sensitive to the privacy interests afforded to every
citizen of this country."

The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The
Washington Post and ABC is the only one of its kind in recent memory,
and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said.

The companies said they agreed to the sum to forestall jail sentences
for their reporters, even larger payments in the form of fines and the
prospect of revealing confidential sources. The companies and their
reporters were not defendants in the privacy lawsuit.

"We were reluctant to contribute anything to this settlement, but we
sought relief in the courts and found none," the companies
said. "Given the rulings of the federal courts in Washington and the
absence of a federal shield law, we decided this was the best course
to protect our sources and to protect our journalists."

The statement noted that the accuracy of the reporting itself was not

The government agencies did not admit that they had violated Lee's
privacy rights.

Betsy Miller, one of Lee's lawyers, said the payments show "that both
the government and the journalists knew that they had significant
exposure had this case gone to trial."

Lee was fired from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in
New Mexico, but he was never charged with espionage. He was held in
solitary confinement for nine months, then released in 2000 after
pleading guilty to mishandling computer files. A judge apologized for
Lee's treatment.

Two federal judges held the reporters in contempt for refusing to
reveal their sources to Lee. The journalists had argued that he could
obtain the information elsewhere.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer signed an order Friday vacating
the contempt proceedings against the reporters, H. Josef Hebert of The
Associated Press, James Risen of The New York Times, Bob Drogin of the
Los Angeles Times, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, and Pierre
Thomas, formerly of CNN and now working for ABC News.

CNN, in a separate statement, said it declined to join in the
settlement "because we had a philosophical disagreement over whether
it was appropriate to pay money to Wen Ho Lee or anyone else to get
out from under a subpoena."

The reporters had appealed the contempt rulings to the Supreme
Court. The justices recently delayed a decision on whether to take up
the reporters' case after being told a settlement was near.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press, called the payment unusual and perhaps

"I'm certainly not happy about this, but I'm not sure I could have
dreamed up a better result," Dalglish said. "On the positive side, it
appears that this result will allow these reporters to continue to
protect their sources."

The settlement underscores the need for a federal law that would
shield reporters from having to disclose their sources, she said.

On the Net:

Justice Department:
Energy Department:

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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