SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters were ordered jailed Thursday for a maximum of 18 months, pending an appeal, for refusing to testify about who leaked them secret grand jury testimony from Barry Bonds and other elite athletes.

Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada published a series of articles and a book based partly on the leaked transcripts of the testimony of Bonds, Jason Giambi and others before a grand jury.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White to send the reporters to prison for the full term of the grand jury investigating the leak, or until they agree to testify. Both sides agreed to stay the ruling pending an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The court is hopeful that perhaps they’ll reconsider their position when faced with the reality of incarceration,” White said Thursday.

Williams and Fainaru-Wada have said repeatedly they would go to jail rather than comply with the grand jury’s subpoena and reveal their source or sources.

The reporters agreed with the government that they are in contempt of court, but had sought a “nominal monetary fine” and other punishment.

“short of full-blown incarceration,” including house arrest and weekend jailing, according to court documents.

In arguing for the stiff penalty, federal prosecutors cited the reporters’ own statements that they would go to jail before testifying.

“Only imprisonment would be the type of sanction that’s going to get their attention,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Miller.

Authorities are seeking to prosecute whoever unlawfully leaked the transcripts, and told White the reporters are the only ones who know the identity of their sources. White ordered the two to testify on Aug. 15.

The criminal conduct being investigated in the Bonds leak case includes possible perjury and obstruction of justice by government officials, defendants and their attorneys in the probe of BALCO, a Burlingame-based nutritional supplement company exposed as a steroid ring two years ago.

All had access to the leaked documents, but have sworn they weren’t the source of the reporting by Williams and Fainaru-Wada.

In August, White ruled his hands were tied by a 1972 Supreme Court precedent that said no one – journalists included – was above the law and may refuse to testify before a federal grand jury.

Chronicle executive vice president and editor Phil Bronstein said the case highlighted the need for a federal law to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources.

“It’s a tragedy that the government seeks to put reporters in jail for doing their job,” said Bronstein, standing with the two reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.

A bipartisan bill currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee would give reporters protection from revealing their sources in cases that involve federal authorities. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have media shield laws already in place.

The Chronicle reported that Bonds told the grand jury that he believed he was using flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, not steroids, supplied by trainer Greg Anderson, one of five defendants convicted in the BALCO scandal.

Anderson served his three months and is behind bars again for refusing to testify before another federal grand jury investigating whether Bonds committed perjury when he gave that testimony in the BALCO case.

Williams and Fainaru-Wada are the latest reporters ordered to prison for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating government leaks. New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days last year for refusing to testify in an investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name.

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