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A senior inspector in the U.S. Marshals Service testified in 2004 that she “took it as an order” when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told her he did not want the media recording his public speeches. “I think he expected me to just make sure they didn’t do it,” Debra Sanderson said in a deposition released Dec. 12 under the Freedom of Information Act. The Sanderson testimony was part of an internal investigation conducted by the service of what it called the “Hattiesburg Incident” of April 7, 2004. That is when deputy U.S. marshal Melanie Rube, who worked with Sanderson, directed two local reporters who were covering a Hattiesburg, Miss., speech by Scalia to erase their recordings of his remarks. Rube said she was enforcing Scalia’s “standard policy” against recording his public talks. When the marshal’s actions were first reported, Scalia took the unusual step of apologizing to the reporters by letter, taking blame for the marshal’s actions. He also wrote a letter to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which had protested the action. Marshals, Scalia said in that letter, “do not operate at my direction.” Scalia told the reporters in his apology that he had failed to clarify his policy, which is to allow print reporters to record his talks for note-taking purposes only. But the reporters’ employers, the Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American lodged protests with the service and complained the journalists’ First Amendment rights in a public forum had been violated. The internal investigation ensued, after which the service’s lawyers concluded no laws had been violated. In litigation brought by the news organizations, the government conceded error, however. The marshals service initially kept the investigative report from public view, but the Hattiesburg paper sued, and the agency relented. The newly disclosed documents include transcripts of depositions given by all involved, including the reporters, Antoinette Konz of the American and Denise Grones of the AP. They describe deputy marshal Rube as acting fairly aggressive, interrupting them while they were trying to cover Scalia’s speech at Presbyterian Christian High School and trying to erase the speech on one recorder herself. Both reporters erased or turned over their recordings. The depositions also indicate Scalia was angry at the broadcast media earlier in the day, before the tape incident. At a reception following Scalia’s earlier appearance at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, AP reporter Grones said she overheard Scalia telling people around him that he was upset that his host had announced Scalia would be available to talk to the media at the reception. Grones said Scalia’s words were “something along the lines, �I hate the media, don’t like the media, I don’t know why they’re here, I’m not talking to them.’” In her deposition, Rube also portrayed Scalia as upset. She heard Scalia tell college president Larry Kennedy at the reception, “Your press is going to be disappointed because I don’t do interviews. I don’t talk to the press.” When a local camera crew shot footage of Scalia walking through the room, Rube continued, “Justice Scalia looked like he got angry. He walked over, kind of threw his notebook down, said something to the president of the college. I’m not sure what it was, but I know it involved telling the media to go away or telling the cameraman to go away.” Kennedy talked to the cameraman, who promptly packed up and left. Sanderson, the inspector, also said Scalia was “noticeably upset” and “threw his folder down and said he was just about ready to leave.” Sanderson, based in New Orleans, testified she frequently provided protection for Scalia, in part because “he loves to come to Mississippi or Louisiana to go hunting.” Scalia could not be reached for comment.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected]. Note: He is a member of the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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