Debra J. Saunders

Last year, Williams and then-Chronicle reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada lived under a cloud after they refused a federal judge's order to reveal the confidential sources of stories they had written on the BALCO steroids scandal. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White held them in contempt and ordered them imprisoned for up to 18 months. White stayed the sentence pending appeal, then lifted it after Troy Ellerman, a former defense lawyer in the BALCO case, admitted to leaking the grand-jury transcripts. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

The longest sentence served by any BALCO defendant was four months. Anderson served more time for not testifying against Bonds than he served for dealing designer steroids. You would think that not helping prosecutors is the bigger crime.

Joe Russoniello was nominated to become Northern California's U.S. attorney on Thursday. Attorney General Michael Mukasey assumed his post this month. They've both inherited this headache.

If prosecutors manage to win a guilty verdict, Bonds no doubt will have earned it. But I have to ask if this entire exercise was worth the price -- was worth sending Anderson to prison to serve more time than any BALCO sentence.

I have to question how federal prosecutors work -- extending a case for four years (during which Bonds broke the home-run record) when they say they had mountains of physical evidence.

If they consider perjury to be a threat to the system, why wait years to go after a man whom so many observers believe lied to a grand jury? Doesn't that undermine the system's credibility, too?

And I wonder why the feds have put so much energy into this case, when there are so many truly dangerous criminals out there.

Debra J. Saunders

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