SAN FRANCISCO -- Unemployed home run king Barry Bonds pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges Friday and almost immediately won a legal skirmish that could clear the way for him to play one more season of Major League Baseball.
In an early victory for Bonds' new and beefed-up defense team, a federal magistrate ruled that the veteran slugger's travels would not be restricted, allowing him to join road trips with any team that wants his bat and multimillion-dollar salary.
Additionally, although no date for trial was set, his longtime attorney said it was unlikely to start before late 2008 -- after the next baseball season is complete.
Flanked by half a dozen prominent Bay Area attorneys, Bonds made his first public appearance since his indictment last month. He was arraigned on charges that he repeatedly lied to a grand jury when he denied knowingly using steroids.
During the brief courtroom procedure, prosecutors argued that Bonds should surrender his passport and not be allowed to travel outside the United States without permission. Newly hired defense lawyer Allen Ruby objected, saying it would impede Bonds' ability to pursue his profession. Now a free agent after 15 years with the Giants, Bonds has said that he wants to continue to play.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James agreed to free Bonds -- who was booked the day before -- on a $500,000 unsecured personal recognizance bond, meaning he will not have to put up the money unless he violates conditions such as those against breaking the law or harassing witnesses.
The federal courthouse here has provided a venue for other high-profile trials, including the bank robbery trial of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in the 1970s and a decade later a Peoples Temple member's trial in the slaying of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan.
But Bonds' court appearance generated its own distinctive street-side carnival. With a news helicopter circling overhead and television trucks lining the sidewalk, reporters and photographers clustered around the courthouse entrance. Sign-carrying fans of Bonds congregated, along with two bikini-clad animal rights activists who were protesting the use of growth-enhancing chemicals by the meat industry.
When Bonds arrived at the Phillip Burton Federal Building with his wife, Liz, just after 8:30 a.m., he avoided the media throng out front by using a back entrance.
But as he walked through the lobby, he smiled and waved to the cameras pressed against the courthouse windows.
If Bonds had looked out the window of his black SUV as his driver pulled up to the courthouse, he might have noticed the large billboard posted at a tire and auto service on the corner:
SAY IT AIN'T SO BARRY
Inside the courtroom, Bonds listened as a prosecutor itemized the charges -- four counts of perjury carrying a maximum sentence of five years and one count of obstruction of justice, carrying a maximum of 10 years. If convicted, Bonds is expected to serve far less than that. Bonds stood erect in a dark suit and striped tie, but it was one of his lawyers who responded to the charges.
"The plea is not guilty to each count," Ruby told the judge.
Bonds said little during the arraignment that lasted less than 15 minutes. He stated his name and age, and when he was asked whether he understood the conditions of his release, he said, "Yes I do."
The case will be tried before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, who presided over some previous cases stemming from the government's 5-year-old probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
Illston convened a brief session after the arraignment. Legal maneuvering began immediately with Ruby indicating that the defense might move to dismiss the indictment for unspecified deficiencies. And Assistant U.S. Atty. Matthew Parella said the new defense team might have conflicts of interest because of previous representation of other figures in wide-ranging and long-running BALCO investigation.
The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Feb. 7 but may involve only the lawyers. Bonds was tentatively excused from appearing, unless the conflict of interest issue with his defense team is addressed at that time. Meanwhile, prosecutors said they would begin sharing their evidence with the defense.
Outside the courthouse, Ruby made a short statement before a crush of reporters and cameras. "Barry Bonds is innocent," he said. "He has trust and faith in the justice system. He will defend these charges, and we are confident of a good outcome."
Bonds lawyer Michael Rains said that, with time-consuming discovery and pre-trial motions, he does not expect the trial to start before the fall or winter of next year.
The 43-year-old Bonds, who made about $15.5 million playing for the San Francisco Giants last season, is a free agent and can sign with any other team to play a 23rd season.