Truth? Justice?

Related: BALCO leaks exposed | A closer look at Troy Ellerman

As a younger man, Troy Ellerman used to hook himself to angry, 2,000-pound bulls and try to ride them for all they were worth.

He went on to be a trick rider in his family's horse act, savior of the professional rodeo circuit and finally, cowboy attorney. Perhaps not surprisingly, he feared no tactic, no matter how potentially reckless, in defense of his clients.

In 2004 that included some BALCO executives, including founder Victor Conte, who faced federal charges of distributing steroids to athletes such as San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

Conte was guilty – as he later pled – but at the time Ellerman was determined to fight for what he could and apparently decided that illegally leaking secret grand jury information to a couple of San Francisco Chronicle reporters might somehow help, according to a Yahoo! Sports report in which Ellerman is cited as a source of leaks by one of his former colleagues.

It was a decision that not only has Ellerman now staring down the most fearsome bull of his life – the full prosecutorial power of the United States government – but also has left a wake of trouble for just about everyone involved.

About the only winner that came from Ellerman's apparent decision to blow the lid off the biggest sports scandal of the decade was the truth, which was revealed in all its ugly, dirty glory in a most ugly, dirty way.

Bonds' admission under oath that he had performance-enhancing drugs in his system when he broke baseball's single-season home run record in 2001 (he claims he used them unknowingly) forced the public at large and Major League Baseball itself to admit there were significant problems in what is now known as the Steroid Era.

MLB and other sports began to confront the massive problem of athlete doping with new policies and greater commitment, and President Bush praised the two reporters who published the illegal testimony – "you've done a great service," he said in 2005.

But that's about the end of the goodwill from Ellerman's apparent decision, as the cast of victims and potential problems continues to grow.

It starts with Bonds, who despite his unsympathetic persona had his Constitutional rights violated when his grand jury comments were made public. Federal statutes guarantee the secrecy of such testimony and Bonds' reputation and professional credibility will never recover from his admission that he had performance enhancing drugs in his system during the 2001 season.

It moves to Conte, who replaced Ellerman as his attorney in the case and later agreed to a plea bargain that caused him to serve four months in federal prison and four months under house arrest. Ellerman client James Valente, second in command at BALCO, received probation.

It also includes the two Chronicle reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who despite publishing an acclaimed series of articles and a best-selling book on the subject, are each currently ordered to face prison time for their refusal to name their sources. An appeal is pending and it is unclear if the feds will show leniency now that Ellerman has been publicly named by former colleague Larry McCormack.

But most in trouble is Ellerman, 43, who might not only have leaked the testimony but with a cowboy's gumption all but taunted a federal judge and prosecutors about it. In 2004 he asserted in a letter to the court that a person in the government must be the leak – "someone in law enforcement refuses to abide by a (confidentiality) agreement." That same year, an infuriated judge forced Ellerman sign an affidavit swearing he wasn't a source of news leaks.

But it appears he was.

Why a lawyer would risk so much is just one of the questions that remain unanswered in the BALCO case. Ellerman, who works out of Colorado Springs, Colo. where he also serves as commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a circuit he revived from the brink of bankruptcy, refused comment to Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday.

But the allegation that he is a source for information that has rocked the sports world, from baseball to football to track and field, serves as a turning point in this exhaustive controversy.

As Bonds attempts to pass Hank Aaron as baseball's all-time home run king this season, the naming of Ellerman should further convince the public that his accomplishments are tainted and keep this story in the news into 2007. Meanwhile, Ellerman could face stiff punishment for his actions – federal authorities have been aware of his role for nearly three months, McCormack told Yahoo! Sports.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors should drop obstruction charges against the two Chronicle reporters. They were held in contempt of court for not revealing their source, but if the court can now identify a source of leaks, the reporters' refusal to cooperate hardly matters. Moreover, their reporting is protected in 31 states, including California, which have journalism shield laws that allow reporters to keep their sources secret.

The lack of a federal shield law was a loophole here – one Congress should close in its next session by passing such legislation. The need for the press to use anonymous sources for investigations big and small is paramount in a free democracy.

But mostly the Ellerman allegation shifts the focus of this off of two obscure newspaper reporters and onto an obscure cowboy turned lawyer who in pure Front Range bravado apparently dared to gamble with federal prosecutors to expose the truth and perhaps protect a client.

Ellerman may be second-guessed by armchair lawyers for years to come. If proven, his actions leave a nasty mess and he faces a most uncertain and possibly unpleasant future.

But if that's the case, what he also did was expose the truth – legally or not – setting off a scandal that has rocked sports to its core. At this point, that's about the only good to come out of this sordid story.