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Anthrax Lawsuit Halted

March 30, 2004|From the Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — Based in part on secret information provided by the FBI, a federal judge Monday postponed for six months Dr. Steven J. Hatfill's lawsuit against the government for targeting him in its investigation of the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in 2001.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered the government to give him another private update on progress in the case in July, when the FBI says sophisticated tests on the anthrax powder may reveal more about where it came from. But the judge agreed to put off at least until October requiring the government to answer most of hundreds of questions submitted by Hatfill's lawyers.

Walton said he sympathized with the predicament of Hatfill, a former Army biowarfare expert who has been fired from two jobs since coming under scrutiny.

"The man's a pariah. Nobody's going to hire him," Walton said.

But the judge said he also understands the government's desire not to let Hatfill's lawsuit interfere with the case. "Obviously we're talking about a very important investigation in which the lives of elected officials were put in jeopardy and the lives of other people were taken," he said, referring to anthrax letters addressed to two U.S. senators.

Walton referred to secret reports on the progress of the investigation provided to him by the FBI. In light of those reports, which neither Hatfill nor his lawyers have seen, Walton said he would put off the bulk of the lawsuit until Oct. 7.

The judge said the government should provide to Hatfill's attorneys some limited information it already has agreed to give up.

Hatfill, 50, is a U.S.-born physician who trained in southern Africa and became an expert on biological warfare in the 1990s while working as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

He was among dozens of biodefense scientists questioned by FBI investigators because of their expertise and possible access to anthrax.

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