Dr. Wen Ho Lee obtains landmark settlement in legal battle with U.S. government arising from press leaks during Los Alamos investigation
Clients Dr. Wen Ho Lee
A team of Jones Day lawyers obtained a landmark $1.645 million-dollar settlement in Dr. Wen Ho Lee's legal battle with the U.S. Government seeking compensation for the unlawful and harmful leaks disseminated to the press by government officials during the investigation of security lapses at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1990s, where Dr. Lee was employed as a nuclear physicist.
The investigation never resulted in any prosecution for espionage. Ultimately, the government's case was disposed of in a plea agreement dismissing 58 of the 59 counts levied against Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee pled guilty to one count of mishandling computer files.
The settlement of Dr. Lee's suit under the Privacy Act against the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of Energy was tied to a separate agreement with five journalists, each of whom had been held in contempt by a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for refusing to disclose the identity of confidential sources in several damaging articles about Dr. Lee. The district court ordered disclosure of these sources only after Dr. Lee had exhausted all efforts to compel the disclosures by the government defendants. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the contempt orders against four of the five journalists, and had issued a briefing schedule for the one remaining journalist at the time the case was settled. Also pending at the time of settlement was a decision by the Supreme Court as to whether to grant certiorari on the final appeals of the four journalists whose contempt orders had been upheld by the Court of Appeals last year.
The terms of the two agreements, one with the government defendants and another with the media organizations representing the five journalists, call for Dr. Lee to receive a total of $1.645 million in compensation for the injuries caused by the unlawful leaks, as well as for attorneys fees and costs.
On June 5, 2006, the Supreme Court denied the reporters' petitions for certiorari, an unexpected turn of events because the underlying case was dismissed three days prior. The Court's decision to deny certiorari serves as an important, final vindication for Dr. Lee.
Wen Ho Lee v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 413 F.3d 53 (D.C. Cir. 2005)