Bonds courtroom circus about to begin

From Patty Hearst to the Jonestown Massacre, the Phillip Burton Federal Building here has hosted its share of high-profile trials over the years. But they may all pale in comparison to the spectacle of the Barry Bonds perjury case.

More than 200 journalists and members of the public are expected to crowd the courtroom and a second overflow room Friday for a brief hearing that marks the home run king's first public appearance since he was indicted Nov. 15 on four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. The charges could mean prison time if Bonds is convicted.

In an attempt to corral the horde, the court has taken the rare step of bringing the judges to Bonds rather than requiring him to appear in two courtrooms, as is often the case with routine initial appearances by criminal defendants. Bonds also will be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken. Even so, the whole affair is expected to last less than an hour.

“It's going to be a very quick hearing,” said Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane. “He'll have the charges read to him and likely enter a plea.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James will serve as the warm-up act. After taking Bonds' plea – expected to be not guilty – she will leave the bench and turn the case over to U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who will set future court dates. Bonds is expected to remain free without having to post any bail money.

Bonds is accused of repeatedly lying when he testified under oath that he never knowingly used performance enhancing drugs. Several of Bonds' former associates are expected to contradict that testimony, and prosecutors claim to have a blood test from November 2000 that shows a “Barry B” testing positive for two types of steroids.

Bonds' defense team is expected to attack the credibility of the witnesses, who include Bonds' former mistress and a one-time business partner who had a bitter split with the slugger over memorabilia sales. Legal experts say the drug test, seized during a raid of the BALCO steroids lab, also will be subject to fierce scrutiny by Bonds' lawyers.

One minor complication to Friday's proceedings is the fact that Bonds has yet to hire a new lawyer with federal court experience, despite an extensive search.

Several top attorneys pulled out after Bonds demanded to keep tight control over the case, and balked at the fees, according to attorneys with knowledge of the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.

For example, talks between Bonds and John Keker, one of the top criminal defense attorneys, broke down last week because Bonds – who made $19.3 million last season – refused to meet Keker's price, and to cede complete control of the case to Keker, they said.

Keker, who has represented Enron's Andrew Fastow, securities litigator Bill Lerach and former star stock analyst Frank Quattrone, was asking for a $2 million retainer, the lawyers said.

“The idea that he is nickel and diming the A-list lawyers is idiotic,” Keane said.

But Bonds doesn't necessarily need a high-powered lawyer for Friday's hearing, several legal experts said, adding that current attorney Michael Rains could ask for several weeks before the next court date, giving Bonds time to hire new counsel.

Rains, who was hired by Bonds in 2003 when it became clear he was under investigation for alleged steroid use, has mostly represented police officers accused of misconduct in state court.

Rains also apparently alienated prosecutors with his taunting remarks during the government's years-long investigation of Bonds. The relationship apparently grew so antagonistic that the government didn't notify Bonds and Rains of the impending indictment, a courtesy typically extended to white collar defendants so they can prepare for the public announcement.

“It appears that Bonds didn't have a well orchestrated defense during the investigation, which was a mistake because it is just as important to have a strong defense lined up during the investigation as it is post-indictment and at trial,” said criminal defense attorney William Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor.

A free agent after the San Francisco Giants cut him after 16 seasons, Bonds' combination of talent and temperament is exactly what's driving the public's interest in the case.

The spectacle begins early Friday, with television trucks setting up camp before dawn and hopeful observers lining up before 7 a.m. for a chance at one of the coveted public seats in the courtroom.

By the time the proceedings begin at 9 a.m., many more will likely have gathered outside the massive edifice towering over the city's most notorious neighborhoodin weather forecast to be chilly and rainy.

Hoping to capitalize on what promises to be a circus-like atmosphere, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will send a pair of bikini-clad “lettuce ladies” to hand out faux-turkey sandwiches outside the courthouse.

The group announced its plans in a statement Thursday: “The growth-promoting drugs given to chickens make them grow faster than Barry Bonds' hat size.”

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