The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American agreed Tuesday to end their litigation against the U.S. Marshals Service over the erasing of recordings of a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The government had conceded in a filing Sept. 10 that the Marshals Service violated federal law when a deputy marshal ordered reporters to erase their recordings of Scalia's speech in April at a Hattiesburg high school.
The Justice Department also said the reporters and their employers are each entitled to $1,000 in damages and reasonable attorneys' fees, as sought by the media organizations.
In settlement documents filed Tuesday in federal court in Jackson, AP and the Hattiesburg American said they would drop the remainder of the suit, which sought an injunction to bar the government from taking similar actions in the future.
In its Sept. 10 filing, the government agreed that the federal Privacy Protection Act forbids the seizure of the work of a journalist. That filing included a statement by Gerald Auerbach, general counsel for the Marshals Service, that the agency had formulated a policy limiting "the role and duties of deputy United States Marshals assigned to provide security to federal judicial officers appearing at public and private events."
Leonard Van Slyke, an attorney for the AP and the Hattiesburg newspaper, said a key to accepting the offer of judgment was Auerbach's statement that the new policy was designed "to ensure that events that gave rise to the litigation do not occur in the future."
Auerbach said deputy marshals are to have "no role or responsibility regarding photography, audiotaping and videotaping at such events except when the personal security and safety of the federal judicial officer is believed to be in jeopardy."
During the April 7 speech, Deputy Marshal Melanie Rube demanded that AP reporter Denise Grones and Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinette Konz erase recordings of Scalia's remarks.
When Grones resisted, the marshal took the digital recorder out of her hands. Grones then showed Rube how to erase the recording. Rube then reached across Grones and demanded that Konz hand over her tape. Konz surrendered the tape and, after the speech, was able to get it back only after she erased the recording in front of the marshal.
The exchange occurred in the front row of the school auditorium while Scalia spoke on the Constitution. Scalia later apologized.