Newswise — As a reporter for 25 years, Toni Locy set the standard for how to cover the American court system.
Now, she's written a book so future journalists can follow her example.
Locy, the Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting at Washington and Lee University, is the author of "Covering America's Courts: A Clash of Rights" (Peter Lang, February 2013).
The first time Locy covered a trial as a young journalist, she says she didn’t know the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant.
"I wish someone had introduced me to the principles of legal reporting before I ever stepped foot inside a courtroom," she said. "It would have made things a lot easier. There are basics that journalists should know when covering any legal proceeding, and what they need to know about the law is different from what lawyers need to know."
Her new book is aimed at journalism students, bloggers and citizen journalists, as well as reporters who are new to legal reporting. It provides them with the foundation they need to write accurate, fair, clear and compelling stories for mass audiences.
Locy has reported for the Associated Press, USA Today, Washington Post, and the Boston Globe, among others. She covered the 9/11 attacks and was one of three Washington Post reporters to break the first published story about the independent counsel's investigation into President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. She was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for a series she wrote for the Boston Globe about the Boston Police Department's inability to solve serious crimes.
But it was her time at USA Today that placed Locy in the national spotlight. In 2008, she refused to comply with a federal judge's order to reveal the identities of confidential sources who had provided information she used in reporting on the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people. Locy won a John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award for her determination to protect sources in the face of extreme personal risk. She faced up to $5,000 a day in fines imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, who found her in contempt of court for refusing to give up her source’s names. The contempt order was vacated after the U.S. Justice Department settled a civil lawsuit filed by Dr. Steven Hatfill, a scientist who had sued the government over disclosures by public officials.
Locy devotes a chapter in her book to the importance of protecting sources, with a sidebar about her experiences in the Hatfill case. "I have no regrets about the Hatfill case whatsoever," she said. "I know I did the right thing, and I would do it again. If you're going to develop sources, then you need to be prepared to protect those sources even if a federal judge is yelling at you to reveal their names."
The first section of the book introduces students to the courts and identifies the key players—police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and reporters—and their roles in the courtroom. Locy then takes the reader through the legal process, from the 911 call, investigation, indictment and pretrial stage to a trial, which could end before it begins in a plea agreement. The book also walks the reader through a trial, from testimony to deliberations to verdict for criminal and civil cases,
Another section explains how to find and interpret key documents that help reporters explain developments in cases.
Locy also addresses secrecy in the courts, pointing out that it has increased considerably since she began her career in 1981.
Locy received two of W&L’s Summer Lenfest Grants for research on the book. A graduate of West Virginia University, she also holds Master’s in the Studies of Law from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.