In Wen Ho Lee Case, a Blow To Journalists After the Fact

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Adding a coda to the legal battle between Wen Ho Lee and the media, the Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not hear the appeals of reporters facing court orders to testify in Lee's lawsuit against the U.S. government.

The court spoke even though the case was over. Lee's lawsuit was settled on Friday, with the government and five media organizations supplying more than $1.6 million to Lee and his attorneys.

The reporters no longer face contempt-of-court penalties for not naming their confidential sources, and their attorneys had been expected to file papers with the court asking it to dismiss the matter as moot.

But the justices had met to consider the appeals last Thursday. They knew by then that settlement talks were underway and postponed a decision to allow time for negotiations.

Indeed, a day before the court's conference, a court aide contacted Lee's attorney, Brian A. Sun, to check on the progress of settlement talks. Sun said that agreement was very close, according to lawyers knowledgeable about the case. Sun declined to comment. The court was informed of the settlement on Friday.

The court's action leaves intact a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which found that the reporters had no legal right to shield the names of their sources.

Yesterday's order is not a ruling on the legal issues in the case, but it does make it clear that the court saw no reason to review the D.C. Circuit's decision. Permitting the case to fade away at the request of the reporters who brought it would have left that point unmade.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer did not participate in the case, for reasons that, as is customary when justices recuse themselves, he did not detail.

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