In United States, two journalists avoid jail in steroid case

New York, February 15, 2007—Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters will avoid going to jail after their source revealed himself in a criminal plea agreement. The reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, had faced up to 18 months in prison for refusing to name the source who provided them with secret grand jury testimony about alleged steroid use by professional athletes.

In papers filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, defense attorney Troy Ellerman admitted he had provided the San Francisco Chronicle journalists with the secret grand jury testimony of baseball sluggers and other professional athletes. At the time of the leak, Ellerman had been representing executives of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative known as BALCO, a California firm that allegedly provided illegal performance enhancing drugs to the athletes.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ordered the two journalists to jail on September 21, although he stayed the sentence pending the outcome of their appeal. The case was under consideration in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when attorney Ellerman came forward to admit that he was the source of the leak.

The 9th Circuit Court recently ruled against freelance journalist Josh Wolf, who refused to hand over a videotape in a separate, criminal investigation.

“We welcome this news since Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are respected journalists,” Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We remain alarmed about the jailing of Wolf.”

Wolf, a 24-year-old video blogger, has so far spent 178 days in jail. Last week, he became the longest-jailed U.S. journalist for contempt of court. The record for a U.S. journalist spending the most time in jail had been held by freelance author Vanessa Leggett, who spent 168 days in a Texas federal penitentiary for refusing to comply with a subpoena in a 2001 criminal case.