A reporter who worked on a story about a settlement between an oil company and locals over alleged water contamination was fined $1,000 Wednesday because she read a sealed file about the deal mistakenly given her by a court clerk.

Kirsten Mitchell, Raleigh bureau chief for the Morning Star of Wilmington, was convicted of the charge of criminal contempt in December. She could have been sentenced to as much as six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.U.S. District Court Judge Earl Britt said he would put a hold on the penalty while the newspaper appeals the conviction.