From the Spring 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 29.
June 2004: Troy Ellerman, a defense attorney representing BALCO Vice President James Valente, allows San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada to take notes of grand jury testimony, according to Ellerman’s subsequent plea agreement.
June 24: Fainaru-Wada and fellow Chronicle reporter Lance Williams write a story about sprinter Tim Montgomery’s grand jury testimony.
October: Ellerman files a motion to dismiss the charges against his client, saying that government leaks have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. The media reports on the attempt to have the case dismissed.
November: According to prosecutors, Ellerman allows Fainaru-Wada to take notes of the grand jury testimony of Major League Baseball players Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield.
December: The Chronicle starts running stories based on the sealed testimony of the baseball players, prompting a Department of Justice probe into the ongoing leaks.
July 2005: Federal prosecutors begin sending out letters to reporters —
including Williams and Fainaru-Wada — asking them to return leaked materials and disclose confidential sources from the grand jury investigation. The reporters decline to cooperate.
May 5, 2006: Federal prosecutors subpoena Williams and Fainaru-Wada.
May 31: The reporters file court papers to have the subpoenas quashed.
Aug. 15: District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco denies the motions and orders Williams and Fainaru-Wada to testify, stating that the grand jury’s interest in the information outweighs the reporters’ First Amendment rights.
Sept. 21: White finds the reporters in civil contempt of court and orders them to prison. The reporters are allowed to remain free, however, while they appeal their case to the federal appeals court in San Francisco (9th Cir.).
Oct. 19: The Chronicle agrees to be held in contempt with its reporters.
Feb. 14, 2007: Just before the case is scheduled to go to oral argument at the appeals court, prosecutors announce that Ellerman has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of contempt of court, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of filing a false declaration with a federal court. Prosecutors say they plan to withdraw the subpoenas issued to Fainaru-Wada, Williams and the newspaper.
March 1: White officially clears the reporters and the Chronicle from all findings of contempt. — Melissa Attias