WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court delayed Monday a decision on whether to take up a fight over reporters' confidential sources, apparently because a former government scientist's lawsuit that prompted journalist subpoenas may be settled.
A lawyer for former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee told the court in a letter last week that "there have been recent settlement discussions with the government in the underlying case," in which Lee accused the government of violating his rights under the Privacy Act.
Appeals arising from that case are pending at the Supreme Court, brought by journalists who were found in civil contempt of court. The reporters have refused to disclose who leaked them information about an espionage investigation of Lee.
Lee was never charged with espionage. He was held in solitary confinement for nine months, then released in 2000 after pleading guilty to a single count of mishandling computer files. A judge apologized for Lee's treatment.
Lee, who was fired from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, has a filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages.
Brian A. Sun, one of Lee's attorneys, said "resolution of the entire case may be imminent." The letter was addressed to the Supreme Court's clerk.
Justices could have announced Monday whether they would hear appeals from the reporters: H. Josef Hebert of The Associated Press, James Risen of The New York Times, Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times and Pierre Thomas, formerly of CNN and now working for ABC News.
The cases are Drogin v. Lee, 05-969, and Thomas v. Lee, 05-1114.