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News Agencies Drop Suit Against Scalia

The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American agreed Tuesday to end their litigation against the U.S. Marshals Service (search) over the erasing of recordings of a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (search).

The government had conceded in a filing on Sept. 10 that the Marshals Service violated federal law when a deputy marshal ordered reporters to erase their recordings of Scalia's April speech at a Hattiesburg high school.

The Justice Department also said the reporters and their employers are each entitlk product 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 State Marshals assigned to provide security to federal judicial officers appearing at public and private events."

Leonard Van Slyke, a lawyer 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."

"The acknowledgment of wrongdoing and assurance that we will not have a repeat of such an incident were the goals of this litigation, and those goals have been met," Van Slyke said.

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."

Charlotte Porter, AP bureau chief for Louisiana and Mississippi, said the AP is "glad to see this matter behind us and hopes that the new policies will prevent cases like this in the future."

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice (search), said he had no comment on the action.

During the April 7 speech, a deputy federal marshal, Melanie Rube, demanded that AP reporter Denise Grones and Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinette Konz erase recordings of the justice's remarks. The reporters had not been told before the speech that they could not use tape recorders.

When Grones resisted, the marshal took the digital recorder out of her hands. The reporter 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 and said he would make it clear in the future that recording his remarks for the use of the print media would not be a problem.

The lawsuit filed in May contended the marshal's actions "inhibited and interfered" with the ability of the reporters to gather, analyze and disseminate complete information to their readers. It says the act violated due process and the constitutional protections from unreasonable search and seizure.