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Federal judge says reporters to be jailed for refusing to testify in steroid leak case

[JURIST] Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters will be jailed if they continue to refuse to identify the person who leaked secret grand jury testimony from Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and other athletes, regarding an investigation into the now-defunct Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) [SF Chronicle coverage], a federal judge said Thursday. Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada [SF Chronicle profiles] published a book and a series of articles based on secret grand jury testimony and have steadfastly refused to reveal their source. A separate grand jury has been convened to uncover the source of the leaked testimony transcripts, and as federal prosecutors have investigated the lawyers, government officials, and defendants who had access to the transcripts, prosecutors say Williams and Fainaru-Wada are the only remaining individuals who have knowledge of the source.

US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled on August 15 that he was bound by Supreme Court precedent that no one, including journalists, may refuse to testify before a federal grand jury and ordered the two reporters to testify [JURIST report]. In what he called a tentative ruling Thursday, White said imprisonment was the only way to pressure the reporters to talk, rejecting requests by lawyers for Williams and Fainaru-Wada for lesser punishment. White ordered the reporters jailed for the rest of the grand jury term, unless they cooperate earlier, but prosecutors have agreed to delay prison time while the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considers the reporters' appeal of the earlier decision.

Chronicle executives have called for a federal law that protects journalists from revealing their sources. The US Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing earlier this week on such a bill, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006 [S 2831 summary], which would allow journalists to protect confidential sources in certain instances. The deputy attorney general argued against the bill [JURIST report], saying that the shield law will hinder national security investigations, but committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter rejected those arguments and indicated that he plans to move forward with the legislation. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

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