San Francisco Chronicle reporters oppose subpoenas
in Balco leak probe
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
May 31, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters
asked a federal judge in San Francisco today to quash subpoenas
that would require them to disclose how they got the transcripts
of a grand jury investigation of a sports steroids scandal.
Attorneys for reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada
say in a brief filed with U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins that
the subpoenas are "unreasonable and oppressive" because
there is no urgent need for the Justice Department to know the
source of the information.
The brief argues that the subpoenas would put a significant burden
on the reporters' free speech rights and on their relationships
with confidential sources.
The leaked grand jury transcripts stemmed from the so-called
BALCO case, in which Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder
Victor Conte and three other men were indicted on charges of giving
illegal steroids to professional athletes.
The four men eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges and
were given sentences ranging from probation to eight months in
In 2004, Williams and Fainaru-Wada published a series of articles
allegedly based on transcripts of the investigation by a federal
grand jury in San Francisco.
Later, the Justice Department convened a separate grand jury
in San Francisco to look into apparent leaks of the transcripts.
Under a federal court rule, information about a grand jury proceeding
may not be disclosed by grand jurors, members of the prosecution
team or court stenographers.
The secrecy rule also applies to defense lawyers and their clients
who have been given copies of grand jury transcripts. Violations
of the rule can be punished as contempt of court.
The confidentiality requirement does not apply, however, to grand
jury witnesses or to any one else not specifically listed in the
rule, including news reporters. But reporters in various cases
have sometimes been subpoenaed in an effort to determine whether
their sources violated the rule.
The Justice Department is being represented in the probe by the
U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
The reporters' lawyers asked Jenkins to schedule a hearing on
the motion for June 15, but the judge has not yet set a date.
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