News outlets seek juror names in Bonds trial

March 9, 2011 7:02:58 PM PST
News organizations asked Barry Bonds' trial judge Tuesday not to seat an "anonymous jury" when the former Giants star goes to trial on perjury charges later this month.

But both Bonds' prosecutors and his legal team urged Judge Susan Illston to keep the names of jurors secret until the trial is over to protect them from harassment from news reporters.

Illston seemed inclined to impose some sorts of limits on information about jurors in the trial, which is set to begin March 21 in federal court in San Francisco.

But she made no immediate ruling.

More than a dozen news organizations, including the Associated Press, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Hearst Corporation, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, had asked the judge to publicize the names of the jurors. They ordinarily are part of the court record available to the public.

The news groups also asked the judge not to seal juror questionnaires, which contain answers to a long list of queries, some of them biographical, some screening for bias.

Questionnaires also are usually part of the public court record.

Seating a jury whose names are unknown to the public is a "drastic" move that runs counter to America's two-century tradition of public trials, media lawyer Duffy Carolan told the judge. Typically, such secrecy is reserved for organized crime cases or other proceedings in which jurors are known to be in physical danger, she said.

But for the vast majority of American trials, it's an open process, she said.

"The fact that the process is open promotes honesty," she argued. If their names are known, prospective jurors are less likely to make false statements during pre-trial questioning, she said.

The U.S. Attorney's office had asked the judge to conceal the names of jurors and the contents of the questionnaires until the trial ends. Bonds' legal team also supports restrictions.

Prosecutor Merry Jean Chang said there was "a high risk of jurors suffering harassment" if their names were known. They would be "hounded" by reporters, she said.

In its filings, the government portrayed Bonds' case as so big that ordinary rules shouldn't apply.

"The defendant in this case is baseball's 'home run king,' perhaps the best known baseball player of the last 15 years," prosecutors wrote. "He was a member of the San Francisco Giants, whose ticket sales are about 25 percent ahead of last year, in part due to its (sic) historic win of the 2010 World Series championship."

Illston didn't rule, but she didn't appear sympathetic to the media's arguments.

When Carolan said that reporters hadn't harassed any court personnel in the Bonds case up to now, Illston retorted:

"Grand jury transcripts were illegally leaked to the press. That was illegal."

She was referring to Chronicle stories published in 2005 that quoted from grand jury testimony by Bonds and other athletes in the BALCO steroids scandal. Illston had ordered the transcripts sealed.

Bonds is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, accused of falsely testifying that he had never knowingly used steroids. Bonds' testimony came at a 2003 hearing before the federal grand jury that investigated BALCO. Bonds has pleaded not guilty.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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