San Francisco Chronicle Agrees to Contempt Order Over BALCO Documents

According to a court filing Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle has agreed to be held in contempt of court for refusing to assist a federal grand jury probing who leaked the secret testimony from the BALCO grand jury. The agreement is largely procedural, allowing the entire case to move before the appeals court which will ultimately decide if the fines and prison terms for its journalists, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wadaand are to be upheld.

The newspaper joined its two employees in their refusal to assist the government’s investigation into the leaked grand jury documents and testimony. The government would like the newspaper to reveal the source or to compel their employees to do so. The Chronicle, like the reporters, claims the First Amendment protects them, a position a federal judge has rejected several times.

Under the deal between the Chronicle and federal prosecutors, which is pending approval by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, the newspaper agreed to pay a fine of at least $1,000 for each day the reporters stayed in jail. The term could last up to 18 months meaning the total amount could approach half a million dollars depending on if and for how long the reporters are kept in jail.

The government has agreed to stay any fines pending the outcome of an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as it did with Williams and Fainaru-Wada’a jail sentences.

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