Bonds' attorneys want case pared down

SAN FRANCISCO – Ambiguity was on display once again in Courtroom 10 on Wednesday in the continuing pretrial saga of the perjury steroids case against Barry Lamar Bonds.

The government and defense made oral arguments before Judge Susan Illston on a defense motion to pare down the latest indictment from 15 to five counts. Illston said she would make a written ruling in the near future.

Defense attorney Dennis Riordan made the familiar Bonds argument that many of the counts are too ambiguous and confusing to support "a valid conviction." He noted muddled queries, such as when the former slugger was asked in front of the grand jury if he "had taken anything like" steroids.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Wilson made the argument that even "fundamentally ambiguous" questions are not a valid reason to drop perjury counts. Wilson argued that Bonds would only have a defense against ambiguous questions if "no one can understand them," in essence suggesting the former baseball slugger should be held to the standard of a professor of semantics.

Wilson argued that if the questions were ambiguous, "This is really a jury question. Any alleged ambiguity is something Mr. Bonds can argue to a jury."

Riordan's points were similar to those Illston supported when she sent the first Bonds indictment back for a government redo in March.

Last month Illston stunned prosecutors by rejecting their demands for jail time in two BALCO convictions, that of former cyclist Tammy Thomas and sprint coach Trevor Graham. Illston clearly wants the Bonds case to move to conclusion. She leaned forward at one point and said pointedly. "I want an end to the motions."

Allen Ruby, another of Bonds' attorneys, surprised the government at the end of the hearing by telling the judge that he hoped to develop a schedule for hearings on what he called foundation issues.

"Evidence that we think can't come into evidence," said Ruby. "There's no foundation for it."

The lawyer gave the example of a "chemical" test. "We think they can't establish a scientific [basis] or a chain of custody." Ruby is believed to have been referring to a test for testosterone ordered by BALCO for Bonds.

Prosecutor Matthew Parrella indicated the government would fight such challenges: "If what he's suggesting is that we try the case before the trial, the government is not on board with that."

Illston asked the parties to propose a schedule or "competing schedules" to sort out these evidentiary challenges by November 21, and Ruby suggested that such legal skirmishes might take place in January.

With Barack Obama's landslide victory Tuesday, prosecutors may have to deal with another obstacle – the prospect of a new boss. U.S. Attorneys tender their resignations with a change of administration. Republican Joseph Russoniello, the sitting San Francisco U.S. Attorney, is unlikely to be asked to continue in his post. That may put the prosecution in the position of reporting to a new U.S. Attorney in the weeks and months before the Bonds trial.

It would be the third U.S. Attorney since Bonds testified before the grand jury in 2003.