Courtroom Cowboy

Related: BALCO leaks exposed | Truth comes from messy case

Even before the FBI began investigating him for allegedly leaking grand jury testimony in violation of a court order, Troy Ellerman was under fire – not from the federal government, but from a bunch of cowboys.

In January 2005, at the same time he was representing BALCO vice president James Valente in the federal steroids case, Ellerman took over as commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the world's oldest and largest rodeo-sanctioning body. It seemed like a good fit.

Ellerman, 43, grew up in northern California riding horses, participated in his family's trick-riding act known as "The Flying Cossacks," and later learned to ride bulls. He never reached the elite level as a bull rider, but his trick-riding skills earned him a gig in the 1994 movie "Lightning Jack." He served as a stunt double for Paul Hogan, the actor better known as Crocodile Dundee.

As the PRCA's commissioner, he cut the image of a cowboy, sporting a clean-shaven head under a 10-gallon hat.

"I grew up around rodeo and feel like I'm the luckiest guy because I get to work with what I love," said Ellerman, who lives with his wife Jenny and has two children from a previous marriage, in a 2006 interview.

But almost two years after moving to Colorado Springs, site of the PRCA's headquarters, the defense attorney finds himself on the defensive.

In October, a calf-roper from California filed a lawsuit claiming to represent almost 800 PRCA members seeking to fire the organization's board of directors, according to the man who filed the suit.

James Warren, the 65-year-old calf-roper and longtime PRCA member who filed the suit, said of Ellerman: "He'd be the first to go." Warren expressed concern over how Ellerman and the board have handled financial matters.

The suit, filed in October, claimed the board failed to properly represent the membership which ranges between 6,000 to 8,000 people.

Ellerman is very familiar with lawsuits.

He earned a law degree from the University of California at Davis in 1991 and passed the California state bar that next year. After spending two years working for a private firm, Ellerman took a job with the Sacramento District Attorney's office and in 1995 opened his own practice and specialized in trials and litigation, according to the PRCA's media guide.

But he also stayed involved in rodeo, serving as chairman of the PRCA's board of directors from 1999 to 2004 before taking over as commissioner.

Harry Vold, a longtime and well-regarded stock contractor, dismissed criticism of Ellerman.

Vold pointed out that Ellerman took over the PRCA when it was reportedly $3.6 million in debt and has since stabilized the organization's finances. Vold said he has not seen financial documents and ousted board members have complained that Ellerman denied their requests to examine the finances.

"Whether a lot of people are happy or not, it's pretty hard to find a person that is going to satisfy everyone," Vold said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's doing the best job he possibly can, and I'm not going to criticize what he's doing."

Acting boldly, Ellerman invited criticism while pledging to eliminate the PRCA's debt. He cut costs by cutting the PRCA.

He sold the rights to the association's bull riding tour – which reportedly was losing more than $1 million a year – to a television production company that paid about $1.5 million for three years. Then he sold the rights to another regular rodeo series that was losing money to a group headed by Jack Sperling, owner of the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League.

But even as Ellerman and his supporters tout financial gains, the commissioner who is alternately described as smart, crafty, charismatic and combative has drawn intense criticism – especially from ousted board members who say Ellerman denied their requests to see certain financial contracts.

"Any time anyone would ever question him on anything, he would cuss like a sailor in front of God and everybody," said Leon Vick, who joined the PRCA board in 2005 and said he was voted off this year after challenging Ellerman in board meetings. "That was his way to keep you from asking any more questions."

An example of Ellerman's tough talk: During the BALCO case, he once referred to the prosecutors as "unadulterated punks."

Earlier this year, Ellerman, angered local officials in Colorado Springs when he spearheaded an aborted effort to move the PRCA to Albuquerque, N.M. And he infuriated barrel racers when he cut off the Women's Professional Rodeo Association while saying the 2,000-member group wasnt paying enough to compete in PRCA-sanctioned events.

The barrel racers countered with a lawsuit, the second pending suit against the PRCA as Ellerman completes his second year on the job.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's doing everything he can to hold it all together," Vold said. But the stock contractor added, "I've been involved for 50 years in the business and as much as I hate to admit it, I've probably witnessed more unrest now than I've ever seen before."