Twice in the past month, grand jury material from high-profile investigations has found its way to the news media, says the New York Times. Extensive excerpts from grand jury material in the Michael Jackson child molesting case were posted on thesmokinggun.com and broadcast on ABC News. The San Francisco Chronicle published parts of federal grand jury testimony that implicated baseball players Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi in the use of illegal steroids.
Lawyers and legal scholars say that news organizations are on firm ground in publishing material from a grand jury if they obtained it legally. Defense lawyers say pretrial publication of such material violates the rights of their clients and taints potential jurors. Kevin Ryan, the federal prosecutor overseeing the sports doping case, asked the Chronicle to reveal its sources and requested a Justice Department investigation of the leak. Phil Bronstein, The Chronicle’s editor, said that the paper would not disclose its sources. Duke Law Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky said that at times the rights of defendants and the media collided, but that courts had almost always sided with the media.