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Judge rejects plea deal for attorney in BALCO steroids case

June 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge Thursday took the unusual step of rejecting a plea deal for an attorney who admitted leaking the grand jury testimony of elite athletes to two newspaper reporters, saying the recommended sentence was not stiff enough.

Troy Ellerman's lawyer had argued in court papers for a 15-month prison sentence after Ellerman pleaded guilty to allowing two San Francisco Chronicle reporters access to transcripts of the testimony of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and other high-profile professional athletes embroiled in the government's steroids investigation. Probation officers had recommended 18 months.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White said that both suggestions were too low and that, as a lawyer, Ellerman "should be held to a higher standard of conduct."

"The court hereby rejects the plea agreement," White said.

Ellerman must now decide whether to withdraw his guilty plea and take the case to trial.

Ellerman and his attorney declined to comment later.

Ellerman was a successful Sacramento attorney when BALCO founder Victor Conte hired him after a raid on his Burlingame nutritional supplements lab, part of the government's probe of athletes' steroid use.

Ellerman also later was the lawyer for BALCO Vice President James Valente, and it was while he was representing Valente that he allowed reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada to view the players' grand jury testimony, according to the plea agreement.

Fainaru-Wada and fellow Chronicle reporter Lance Williams then published stories in 2004 reporting that Giambi and others had admitted using steroids and that Bonds and Sheffield testified that they didn't knowingly take the drugs.

After Ellerman pleaded guilty in February to four felony charges of obstruction of justice and disobeying court orders, prosecutors dropped their case against the reporters.

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