HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Federal marshals broke no laws when seizing tape recordings from reporters from The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American during a 2004 speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an initial agency investigation found.
The marshals service's general counsel "reviewed the allegations and determined that there were no violations of the laws," according to a summary report of the April 2004 investigation, published Thursday in the Hattiesburg newspaper.
Later that year, the Marshals Service acknowledged in a lawsuit settlement that it violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which protects journalists from having their work product seized by the government.
The conflict began in April 2004 when a deputy marshal demanded that the two reporters erase recordings of Scalia's remarks at Presbyterian Christian School. The reporters had not been told before the speech that they could not use tape recorders, and their news organizations sued the agency.
The lawsuit ended in September 2004 with the Marshals Service acknowledging the law violation and saying it had created new procedures for working with the media. Under the new policy, marshals 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."
The newspaper had requested the investigation report and other documents in 2004 under the Freedom of Information Act, but the Marshals Service had refused. The Justice Department ordered the papers released last month.
Leonard Van Slyke, the newspaper's attorney, said the documents don't say whether disciplinary action was taken in the case.
"I would have expected there to be some kind of disciplinary action taken against the marshal or her supervisor because they failed to understand their duty," Van Slyke said.
During Scalia's speech, the deputy marshal, Melanie Rube, took a digital recorder from AP reporter Denise Grones when Grones resisted her demand to erase recordings of the justice's remarks. Grones then showed her how to erase the recording. Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinette Konz then surrendered her tape and, after the speech, got it back only after erasing it in front of the marshal.
The marshal said she acted at the direction of Scalia.
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.
Also among the documents are copies of apologies that Scalia sent to Konz and Grones.
The release of the documents is a victory for the newspaper and the public, Van Slyke said.
"I think it's important that the record be complete and the public have access to what actually happened and the statements people made," Van Slyke said.