A federal appeals court appeared skeptical of arguments Thursday that former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds obstructed justice by giving a long-winded, digressive answer in testimony to a federal grand jury investigating illegal steroid distribution.
During a hearing, an 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hammered a lawyer for the government with questions about how an evasive but truthful answer could amount to felony obstruction of justice.
Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen asked Assistant U.S. Atty. Merry Jean Chan whether an evasive answer could be "cured" if the respondent later gave a direct answer.
"Cure is a different word than I would use," Chan said.
"Did you just give an evasive answer?" asked Judge N. Randy Smith.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski warned: "The U.S. attorney is watching."
Judge William A. Fletcher said lawyers give evasive answers all the time in civil litigation.
"I find your view of the statute absolutely alarming," Fletcher said. If the view was correct "half the bar and maybe all of the bar is in big trouble."
Bonds already has served his sentence — house arrest — and paid a fine. But erasure of his felony conviction could help him win a coveted place in baseball's Hall of Fame and brighten his legacy.
Bonds was charged with perjury and obstruction as a result of testimony he gave in 2003 to a grand jury investigating steroid use among professional athletes.
During a trial in 2011, the jury hung on the perjury counts and convicted Bonds only of obstruction. The obstruction count was based on a meandering answer to a question about whether Bonds' trainer had ever given him a substance he could inject.
Bonds did not answer the question immediately and instead digressed about his father and family and friendship. But when the prosecutor asked the question again, Bonds answered it directly.
The 9th Circuit did not indicate when it would rule.