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WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld civil contempt of court findings against four journalists who refuse to reveal their sources for stories about former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Lee has filed a lawsuit alleging government officials leaked information about him to reporters, violating the Privacy Act in pointing to him as a suspect in the possible theft of nuclear secrets for China.
A federal court did not abuse its discretion in finding the journalists in contempt for refusing to answer questions under oath about their sources, the three appeals judges ruled.
The four reporters are H. Josef Hebert of The Associated Press, The New York Times' James Risen, Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times and Pierre Thomas, formerly of CNN and now of ABC.
The appeals court reversed a contempt finding against New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth, saying there was insufficient evidence against him to sustain such a conclusion.
The legal troubles for the four reporters, who face fines of $500 a day, come at a time of increasing hostility for the news media in the courts.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in another case in which New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper face jail time for refusing to reveal their sources to a federal grand jury. In that case, a federal prosecutor is investigating the Bush administration's leaking of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.