SBD/Issue 156/Law & Politics

S.F. Chronicle, Reporters Subpoenaed Over BALCO Documents

Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas S.F.
Chronicle’s Williams (l) And Fainaru-Wada
The S.F. Chronicle and reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada received subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury about “leaked court documents used as the basis for articles that linked well-known athletes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs,” according to Fernandez & Herel of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The subpoenas call for the pair “to provide any grand jury transcripts in their possession” related to the BALCO investigation, and also asks them to “provide the packaging in which they received any transcripts, as well as any information they have regarding the identity of the person or persons who leaked the documents.” The subpoenas are the “latest examples of an increasingly common strategy by federal prosecutors to force reporters to reveal their confidential sources or be cited for contempt of court.” California First Amendment Coalition Exec Dir Peter Scheer said, “It could go as far as asking the federal judge presiding over the BALCO case to hold the reporters in contempt and to order the reporters to jail and to order the newspaper to pay a huge fine for every day that they don’t disclose the source.” But Chronicle Exec Editor Phil Bronstein said, “We believe that our ability to report on this issue is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In the case of the steroid story, the public was well served by that reporting, which sparked a national discussion and debate about steroid use in sports and ultimately led to enactment of stricter steroid policies by [MLB].” Hearst Corp. VP & General Counsel Eve Burton, whose company owns the paper, added, “The Chronicle and its reporters intend to fight the subpoenas vigorously” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/6).

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