SAN FRANCISCO -- Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters plan to appeal a federal judge's order to jail them until they agree to testify about who leaked them secret grand jury testimony from
Barry Bonds and other elite athletes.
Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada won't have to report to
prison pending their appeal of Thursday's ruling, which could keep
them behind bars for more than a year.
The reporters repeatedly have said they would rather go to jail
than reveal how they obtained the transcripts from a grand jury
that investigated the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. The pair
published a series of articles and a book based partly on the
leaked testimony by Bonds, Jason Giambi and others.
"I'm supposed to keep my promises when people help me and take
me at my word," Williams said in court Thursday. "I do despair
for our country if we go very far down this road, because no one
will talk to reporters."
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected the reporters'
request for simply a monetary fine, or even house arrest, saying
that prison time would best compel them to testify before the grand
jury investigating the leak.
"The court is hopeful that perhaps they'll reconsider their
position when faced with the reality of incarceration," White
Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to send the reporters to
prison for a maximum of 18 months -- the length of a typical grand
If the reporters refuse to cooperate, they could remain in
prison until the current grand jury term expires, which could
happen as late as October 2007, according to court documents. The
government also could convene another grand jury if the first one
expires without a resolution.
Both sides agreed to stay Thursday's ruling pending an appeal to
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Authorities want to charge whoever unlawfully leaked the
transcripts, and told White that the reporters are the only ones
who know who did. White ordered the two to testify on Aug. 15.
The criminal conduct being investigated in the Bonds leak case
includes possible perjury and obstruction of justice by government
officials, defendants in the BALCO probe and their attorneys. All
had access to the leaked documents, but have sworn they weren't the
source of the reporting by Williams and Fainaru-Wada.
In August, White ruled his hands were tied by a 1972 Supreme
Court precedent that said no one -- journalists included -- was above
the law and may refuse to testify before a federal grand jury.
Chronicle executive vice president and editor Phil Bronstein
said the case highlighted the need for a federal law to protect
journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources.
"It's a tragedy that the government seeks to put reporters in
jail for doing their job," said Bronstein, standing with the two
reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.
A bipartisan bill currently before the Senate Judiciary
Committee would give reporters protection from revealing their
confidential sources in cases that involve federal authorities.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have media shield
laws already in place.
The Chronicle reported that Bonds told the grand jury that he
believed he was using flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, not
steroids, supplied by trainer Greg Anderson, one of five defendants
convicted in the BALCO scandal.
Anderson served his three months and is behind bars again for
refusing to testify before another federal grand jury investigating
whether Bonds committed perjury when he gave that testimony in the BALCO case.