[JURIST] Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters will escape jail time after a defense lawyer for BALCO founder Victor Conte admitted [DOJ press release, PDF] Wednesday in court filings that he allowed reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada [SF Chronicle profiles] to see transcripts of the grand jury testimony of several baseball stars, including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield, regarding the steroids investigation into the now-defunct Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) [SF Chronicle coverage]. Attorney Troy Ellerman made the admission as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors, pending judicial approval, where prosecutors will drop the case against Williams and Fainaru-Wada in exchange for two years of prison and a $250,000 fine from Ellerman. The plea hearing is yet unscheduled. The San Francisco Chronicle has more. AP has additional coverage.
In September 2006, a federal judge threatened Williams and Fainaru-Wada with jail time [JURIST report] for refusing to reveal the source of the leaked grand jury transcripts. The reporters were set free pending the resolution of their appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In an August 2006 order [PDF text; JURIST report] denying Williams and Fainaru-Wada's motion to quash the subpoenas, the judge cited Supreme Court precedent for the proposition that no one may refuse to testify before a federal grand jury. The reporters had previously argued that the First Amendment protects the rights of journalists to protect their sources. Similar arguments made by New York Times reporter Judith Miller were struck down [JURIST report] last year by a federal judge who ruled that "the First Amendment does not protect news reporters or news organizations from producing documents when the news reporters are themselves critical to both the indictment and prosecution of criminal activity."