Only a rich man can afford justice...and maybe not even then
The eternal and disturbing saga involving Barry Bonds may finally be over. Last week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Bonds’ conviction on obstruction of justice charges, putting to rest – hopefully for good – a sad and frightening chapter in our country’s history.
You may recall that Bonds was convicted of obstruction for a meandering, 234-word response to a prosecutor’s question during his testimony before a grand jury in 2003. The government said he should have responded with a “yes” or “no” answer, which he did when prosecutors repeated the question a short time later. But the feds claimed they were “inconvenienced” by Bonds’ initial response so in 2007 they charged him with obstruction along with three counts of perjury. In 2011 a jury deadlocked on the perjury charges but convicted Bonds of obstruction.
In 2013 a three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with the jurors but Bonds’ attorneys asked for a rehearing before a larger panel of judges. Twelve years and the expenditure of an estimated $50-plus million after it all began, the court voted 10-1 to overturn Bonds’ conviction.
Bonds’ nightmare may not be over. The government can ask all 29 judges of the 9th Circuit to hear the appeal and/or ask the Supreme Court to consider the case. Common sense says that prosecutors should slink back to the shadows with their heads between their legs and lick their wounds. But if common sense had ever been applied to this case, we wouldn’t be here today. The feds were intent on persecuting Bonds not for any crime but because he is arrogant, haughty and unlikable. Fortunately, none of those characteristics has ever been criminalized in our statutes. If that were the case, our prisons would be teeming not only with entitled athletes, but politicians, bankers and Wall Street moguls.
Not everyone was pleased with the latest decision. Juliet Macur of The New York Times wrote a sarcastic, immature, unprofessional and embarrassing – for her and the Times – column denouncing Bonds and conveniently ignoring the legal issue before the court. Macur recounted testimony from the trial about the size of Bonds’ testicles, his mistress and the acne on his back. But that evidence had nothing to do with whether Bonds was guilty of obstruction.
Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, went even further afield, calling the decision “almost meaningless for the ‘real issue,’ which is whether he used performance-enhancing drugs to cheat the fans of baseball.” Maybe he’d be right, if the case had been decided in another venue or another world. But the real issue before the court was the conduct of prosecutors and the legal system that is supposed to protect all Americans, including the despicable among us. Bonds was indicted for obstruction – a crime he never committed – not of using PEDs or cheating the fans of baseball.
The Circuit Court judges were concerned that the government’s interpretation of the obstruction statute “… poses a significant hazard for everyone involved in our system of justice, because so much of what the adversary process calls for could be construed as obstruction…One need not spend much time in one of our courtrooms to hear lawyers dancing around questions from the bench rather than giving pithy, direct answers.” Imagine that; lawyers, like Bonds, offering meandering responses to questions posed by judges.
One judge wrote, “…this case involves nothing more than an irrelevant, rambling statement made by a witness during the course of a grand jury investigation.” But this case was about so much more than that. It was about protecting all of us from prosecutorial abuse; the unlimited power – and resources – of our government; and what can happen if you aren’t likable and you don’t treat the justice department with the respect it craves but hasn’t earned.
While the millions that Bonds spent to defend himself are unrecoverable, at least he is no longer a convicted felon. A number of freedoms – the right to own and possess a firearm, to travel abroad without obtaining government permission, to serve on a jury – which were stripped from him as a result of the overzealous and illegal persecution of the Justice Department, have been restored.
The decision was definitely a win for Bonds. And more importantly, it was a victory for all of us.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.© Copyright 2015 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed