As arraignment nears, Bonds still shopping for new lawyer

Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

Barry Bonds’ first date with a federal judge is Friday, when he is expected to plead not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges, but the slugger still has yet to assemble his full legal team.

Bonds and longtime attorney Mike Rains began shopping around the Bay Area for another lawyer with federal experience even before Bonds was charged Nov. 15 with lying to a grand jury about his steroids use.

Rains has a small firm focused mostly on defending police officers accused of misconduct and he has limited experience in federal court. So Laura Enos, another lawyer who represents Bonds’ business interests, said the slugger was looking to add another lawyer while also retaining Rains.

Negotiations between Bonds and John Keker, one of the country’s top – and most expensive – criminal defense attorneys, fell through last week over his fees and disagreements over control of the case, two people with knowledge of the negotiations said on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Criminal law experts also said Keker may have faced conflict of interest issues because his firm represented the Major League Baseball players union in its unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent federal investigators from getting the names of some 100 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drug use in 2003.

So Bonds is still interviewing criminal defense lawyers, and is being advised by San Francisco civic leader Daniel Walter Shorenstein, and trial lawyer and deep-pocketed Democratic donor Joseph Cotchett, who was once the law partner of the judge presiding over Bonds’ case.

A grand jury indicted Bonds last month on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The career home run leader and former San Francisco outfielder likely faces a maximum of two years in prison if convicted.

Bonds’ legal problems began with his testimony in December 2003 before a grand jury investigating a performance enhancing drug ring centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in Burlingame. Five men involved in the ring, including BALCO founder Victor Conte, Bonds’ personal trainer Greg Anderson and track coach Remi Korchemny have pleaded guilty to drug charges.

George Walker, who represented Korchemny, said he’s been interviewed by Bonds’ representatives as a potential candidate. Walker said he had dinner with Bonds’ business manager four months ago and has had several telephone conversation since. But Walker said he hasn’t heard anything from Bonds’ camp in the last few days.

“They are looking over a lot of horses,” Walker said. Walker also said that it’s not paramount that Bonds have his legal squad in place by Friday. The hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston is expected to be brief and perfunctory with Bonds pleading not guilty, a new court date being scheduled and the slugger being released without having to post any bail money.

Before President Clinton appointed Illston to the bench in 1995, she was a partner with Cotchett in a Burlingame-based law firm that specializes in suing Wall Street corporations on behalf of aggrieved shareholders.