The lawyer who admitted leaking grand jury testimony about athlete steroid use to the San Francisco Chronicle was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison July 12, 2007. The judge had rejected an earlier plea agreement that allowed for a two-year maximum sentence as too lenient.
Troy Ellerman’s guilty plea kept two Chronicle reporters from going to prison for refusing to divulge a confidential source, but neither reporter would confirm that Ellerman, a former defense lawyer for two defendants in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid distribution case, was his source. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams wrote a series of newspaper stories and a book in 2004 about steroid use in Major League Baseball based on grand jury testimony from players including Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. (See “Attorney Admits Leaking Information to BALCO Reporters” in the Winter 2007 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)
Under the agreement with prosecutors, Ellerman pleaded guilty to four felonies, including obstruction of justice and contempt of court, and agreed to a maximum 33-month prison term and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White sentenced Ellerman to 30 months in prison, but dropped the fine, citing the hardship it would impose on the lawyer’s family. Ellerman also will have to speak at 10 California law schools after his prison term about the importance of being “fair and honest” as a lawyer, the Chronicle reported July 13, 2007.
The Chronicle reported that Ellerman argued that the 30-month sentence was too harsh based on President George W. Bush’s recent commutation of the 30-month sentence issued to I. Lewis Libby for lying to a grand jury about his role in leaking the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. The only differences, Ellerman argued, were that Libby took the case to trial while Ellerman admitted his crime, and Libby divulged information relating to national security while Ellerman divulged information relating to professional athletes.
White rejected Ellerman’s arguments, relying on federal sentencing guidelines and the contention that lawyers, as officers of the court, should be severely punished for lying to the court. Ellerman had argued the case against his clients should be dropped because prosecutors had leaked the testimony.
“If you can’t believe what the lawyers say, you have no basis for finding the truth, no basis to follow the law, and the system breaks down,” White said, according to the Chronicle. “Under the president’s reasoning, any white-collar defendant should receive no jail time, regardless of the reprehensibility of the crime.”
Ellerman must report to prison by Sept. 13, 2007, the Chronicle reported. With good behavior, Ellerman could be released in about two years.
– Michael Schoepf, Silha Research Assistant