For former San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds, a man accustomed to controlling his own agenda and fortunes, life is now in the hands of his flotilla of lawyers.
A seemingly calm Bonds appeared in a San Francisco federal courtroom Friday, pleading not guilty to five felony charges of lying to a federal grand jury about using steroids at the zenith of his career. Major League Baseball's all-time home run leader, who came and went from the federal building without a peep to the media mob, is now unlikely to return there for months. His case, celebrity in nature or not, will grind slowly through the justice system like hundreds of felony cases on the local docket.
Bonds may have been silent, but he is giving every sign that he is ready for a pitched battle with the federal government. He is charged with four counts of perjury and one count of obstructing justice in connection with his December 2003 testimony to a federal grand jury probing the Balco steroids scandal.
The 43-year-old Bonds, dressed in a snazzy dark suit and striped blue tie, appeared in court with a newly assembled powerhouse defense team, led by Silicon Valley star lawyer Allen Ruby and East Bay defense specialist Cristina Arguedas. Ruby said immediately he expects to move to dismiss the indictment because it contained legal, technical flaws he did not specify.
Outside court, Ruby also told reporters that his client is prepared to go to trial. Doing so would force the strapping left fielder to directly address allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs as he mounted his assault on baseball's home run record.
Bonds was equally defiant on his personal Web site, where he predicted he'll be "vindicated" of the charges, which could bring him one to three years in federal prison if convicted.
With legal wrangling a foregone conclusion, a trial is unlikely to take place before the next baseball season begins - and it may be doubtful before the World Series.
World-class cyclist Tammy Thomas, indicted on allegations of perjury in the Balco case, was charged nearly a year ago - and her case still awaits trial. Thomas was among a host of athletes, from baseball to track to football, caught up in the Balco probe, which exposed a Peninsula laboratory's link to the distribution of steroids in sports.
Meanwhile, Bonds' return to the same federal building where he testified in the Balco case four years ago lasted only about a half hour and demonstrated how much attention his legal troubles will attract. He arrived at about 8:30 a.m., making his way through a sea of television cameras into the courthouse, where he was escorted to a 19th floor private attorney conference room.
Outside court, a modest group of supporters, as well as a peculiar mix of other demonstrators, gathered. Only three Bonds supporters in their black and orange Giants gear bothered to get passes for the courtroom to show their support.
Rich Archuleta, 43, a lifelong Giants fan who drove 150 miles from his home near Sacramento, called the government's case a "witch hunt."
Perhaps the oddest spectacle was a pair of women representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who used the media attention to get some of their own.
Clad in bikinis made of rhinestone-studded lettuce cups, they handed out tofu sandwiches. "If people are concerned with athletes pumping themselves with growth hormones, they should consider that the meat industry is doing the same thing every day to animals," said Nicole Matthews, a PETA staff member shivering in the chilly morning air.
The legal spectacle was more somber. Flanked by his wife, Liz, Bonds entered the courtroom with an entourage of six lawyers, striding past his nemesis, IRS agent Jeff Novitsky, the lead investigator in the Balco case. As U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Elena-James outlined the procedures, Bonds stood at the lectern, at one point fumbling with the microphone. He said little - Ruby entered the 'not guilty" plea for him.
Inside the courtroom, James rejected the government's bid to restrict Bonds from leaving the United States to travel after Ruby argued that such a restriction could hinder Bonds' ability to resume his baseball career.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who has presided over the entire Balco affair, then took over from James, setting the next routine court date for Feb. 7.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella, said the government may raise questions about whether some of Bonds' lawyers could have a conflict of interest. Parrella didn't specify, but Arguedas has represented six athletes who have appeared before the Balco grand jury. Bonds' defense lawyers said they do not expect the issue to present serious problems.
Bonds left the courthouse again without speaking to reporters, but stopped to hug his aging aunt, Rosie Bonds Kreidler, who was waiting for him in the lobby. They chatted for a few moments, Bonds flashed a smile, and he disappeared from the building into an awaiting sport-utility vehicle.
Bonds just finalized his defense team this week, after searching for a top-flight defense lawyer to replace Michael Rains, an East Bay lawyer who has represented Bonds since the early stages of the Balco investigation, but has little federal criminal trial experience. Rains was relegated to a bit part Friday.
Ruby, considered Silicon Valley's leading trial lawyer, appeared to take on the lead role for Bonds. Ruby has handled high-profile cases for decades, most recently getting San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales off the hook on public corruption charges related to the Norcal garbage scandal. Arguedas has a blue-chip list of clients. Bonds also added San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan to his team.
Riordan has handled blockbuster cases ranging from the Phil Spector murder trial to the infamous San Francisco dog mauling trial. And, in a sign that there will be plenty of legal wrangling before and after the trial, he specializes in crafting legal motions and handling appeals.
Bonds is accused of lying to federal prosecutors in four separate exchanges when he testified before the grand jury investigating Balco. That probe has produced a number of indictments.
Prosecutors spent several years on the investigation into whether Bonds perjured himself before the grand jury, delayed in part by the refusal of Bonds' friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson to testify. Anderson spent the better part of a year in federal prison after a judge found him in contempt.
Anderson, who pleaded guilty in the original Balco case and is suspected of supplying Bonds and other athletes with steroids, could be called again to testify if Bonds goes to trial. Anderson's lawyers insist he'll never testify against Bonds.
Perjury cases are notoriously hard to prove, and likely witnesses include Bonds' former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell; his former doctor; and other athletes implicated in the Balco scandal. The indictment also revealed for the first time that prosecutors obtained evidence that Bonds tested positive for steroids in a 2000 drug test.